"He gave me
some cake. It was in a Tupperware in his bag. Said he'd been taking it in for
his team at work but I might as well have it. To sort of say sorry I think. You
know, for the inconvenience."
"I see. What
climbed over the fence and I stood there like a chump for a moment before
getting back on and calling you lot."
"You didn't try
and stop him?"
"What did you
expect me to do? Wrestle him to the ground and throw him over my shoulder? He
weren't a big guy but he's not much smaller than me.
already made it pretty clear that he wasn't getting back on the train."
"Well, he said,
"I'm not getting back on." But it was the way he said it. Like it
wasn't up for debate. And he had a bit of a scary look in his eye."
"Yeah, sort of
like he was on drugs but not really. Just that getting in his way wouldn't be a
good idea. Look the guy who pulls the emergency stop on a train then just gets
off and walks off into the countryside clearly has some issues, right? Besides
which, he'd left track-side so I was hardly going to pull him back onto railway
property was I?
him on CCTV anyway right?"
you'd be surprised about how little help that is sometimes. Cameras are old,
pictures are grainy and at the wrong angle, and we're looking for a
normally-dressed, average-size, brown-haired Caucasian male carrying a laptop
about that. I'd know him again if I saw him, but to describe him...? Well, he
could be me or you or half the people who've walked past that window."
"Do you know
where he got on?"
"Not a chance.
With cancellations it was heaving on there, I never made it down the
understand. Thanks for your help. We'll be in touch if we get anything."
"Can I eat
"The cake; can
I eat it? Well, share it with the team..."
ahead, knock yourself out. What kind is it?"
Sometimes I wonder
what would happen if I just didn't stop.
Standing here with
my forehead pressed against the glass I wonder what would happen if the doors
opened and I didn't get off, didn't go home, have my dinner, sink into the
sofa, drag my lazy arse into bed, set the alarm to go through the whole
rigmarole again tomorrow.
What if I stepped
back, away from the doors, let the train pull my weary carcass the wrong way
out of the station and north.
Not that you can go
that far north. It's not that big an island. But that doesn't really matter.
It's not about that. It's about what would happen if I got off where the train
stopped and just kept walking.
I used to hand out
catalogues in Amsterdam station; when you looked at the destinations scrolling
up the board you couldn't escape the fact that you were at one edge of a
continent. One train to Moscow, one more train to Vladivostok and you've
crossed half the globe.
terminates in Middlesbrough. It's not quite the same. In fact it's a shithole.
But you probably know that already.
We're not even
moving. Waiting for a platform to become available apparently. Eleven bloody
platforms at that station and I bet there's not ten other trains there when we
What would happen if
I got off in Middlesbrough and kept walking. Just kept going until I
disappeared. Can you even disappear in this country? There's CCTV everywhere
but it would take a while to find me on the cameras. They wouldn't be looking
for me on Teeside. And in Leeds I'd be just another knackered, middle-aged
office worker shuffling through the daily routine, one of thousands going
through the grey commute. Tens of thousands maybe?
There must be some
pretty empty areas of Northumbria where a man could disappear? Just walk out
onto the moors, dig a hole, make a shelter, steal a sheep.
I've not even got a
coat with me. I'd be dead in a week.
Maybe I should head
Pack a few different
things in the rucksack tomorrow morning, head to the station as usual, then
London, the south coast, a ferry, and then start walking?
Harder to find.
And it would mean I
wasn't so tired I'm falling asleep standing up.
Empty the bank
Keep to the back
roads and minor rail lines.
Head south, France,
then Spain. I bet you can disappear there. No job. No rent. No jammed in like
sardines for two hours a day in an overheated cigar tin. No fighting your way
through the barriers because the machines don't work properly. No performance appraisals.
No stretch targets. No desperate clinging on.
Just walk away.
And we're moving
Back into the
station. Back into the routine. The rut. What did Nick say? "The only
difference between a rut and a grave is the depth."
I've been dabbling in a bit of fiction writing over the last few years, very little has ever been worth even my re-reading but I've been working on a couple of things recently that might have slightly more to them. In the meantime I'm still putting words on the page just to get ideas out of my head so I can think about other stuff. For nothing more than curiousity's sake I've decided to start publishing these little bits of fiction (I think the term is "flash fiction") here. Feel free to comment or critique as you like.
Did you see that?"
just fell in!"
bridge." I jump to my feet, looking across the scattered groups of people,
lounging and sunbathing in the early heat.
they've gone for a swim?"
No-one else seems to have noticed. I scan around for a life ring, I've seen one
already, I'm sure. There! I start towards it.
that one!" She gestures to one further down the bank, "The current's
going that way."
I set off
towards the farther ring. People have started shouting and I am properly
sprinting across the grass, shouting "Excuse me!" as loud as I can as
I cut round (and sometimes though) the groups of people.
though, very British.
already got the ring off the stand when I get there, an older chap I realise as
he looks up; knows what he should be doing, but struggling to work up the
“I’ll go,” I
say, pulling my shirt off, “tie it on.” I’m already barefoot, I dump my phone
and wallet on my shirt (I feel guilty about that fraction of a second delay,
but I promise you it’s really quick). Grabbing the ring, I take two running
steps and jump in.
Is this what it
feels like to be a hero?
I hit the water
hard and nearly lose the bloody ring. The drop is further than it looks but I
snag the thin blue rope and start to swim out.
already being carried downstream, fast. The current is way stronger than I
thought and how the hell are you supposed to swim with one of these things
anyway? I wrap the rope around my arm and surge into the river.
I can’t see
I look over my
shoulder and she’s moving down the bank pointing. I’m already fifty metres
downstream from where I jumped in. She’s on the tow path now, shouting at the
old guy to untie the ring. It’s a good thing that she’s got the brains.
Change of plan,
no point fighting this current, just cut across and try and intercept.
Fuck! The rope’s still tied on and now it’s hooked round my leg as well as my
arm. A mouthful of water going down the wrong way. Coughing, spluttering, head
going under again, rising sense of panic.
No. This is what
it feels like to be a hero.
rope’s been untied. I roll onto my back and spew half-a-lungful of water out.
pointing where to go and I am unbelievably relieved to see the end of the rope
in her hand.
swim, check, swim, check. I must be most of the way across? Why couldn’t the
stupid bastard have fallen in on our side?
hands fly to her mouth and she’s not pointing any more. Must have gone under. I
try to put on a spurt then check back. She’s pointing again, jumping up and
down with frantic energy. Jabbing, not pointing now, I must be really close. I
kick upwards as hard as I can to see further and catch a flash of something
pale, something that might be an arm, as it disappears.
I’m tiring and
desperate now and fling myself under the water, eyes wide, wide open.
Grab. Slip. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Grab… got it.
Up, not far,
gasping for breath. One arm through the ring, one under his armpits. He’s
twitching thank fuck.
Suddenly I am
surging through the water. Twisting, I can see that a bunch of people have
taken the rope from her and there must be a dozen of them pulling me in. He’s
slipping though, stupid bastards are pulling to fast and I’m struggling to hold
I kick and
strain and heave and get my other arm down and under his arms; desperately I
lock my fingers together, squeezing until my forearms are on fire.
There are people
in the water now, taking the weight, untying the rope from my numb left arm.
She’s smiling at
me and crying; I think I might be too.
I have three* bicycles, a road bike, a mountain bike and a town / hack bike**.
The one that is used most frequently (as opposed to the one that does the most miles or takes the hardest knocks) is the oldest, cheapest and ugliest of the three, a hack bike in the classic sense. It has mudguards, a rack, 28mm semi-slick tyres, a single-speed converter and security bolts on the axles. It also has a coating of grime so thick that it serves its own anti-theft protection purposes, but it's a few things away from a perfect city bike.
So what might a perfect city bike look like?
Well, one thing you can guarantee is that it would look nothing like the various ridiculous concepts that get splashed around every now and then. Take this one. Please just take it. With that much fancy carbon-fibre on show you can guarantee that if you don't someone else will. As long as it's not raining of course, because there are no mudguards. And as long as there's nothing to carry (no rack). And it's full daylight (no lights). And...
I'll stop there, you get the picture.
So, again, what might a perfect city bike look like?
I think there are a few constants that would be welcome anywhere:
Integrated lights. Good ones, one that will do a job both to be seen by and to be seen, built into the bike so as to be theft-proof and running off a dynamo with a back-up battery for the traffic lights.
An integrated lock. I don't want a d-lock swinging off my handlebars and taking chips out of the paintwork, worse I don't want to arrive and realise that I've left my lock at home.
A belt drive. Whether linking to a hub-gear or a single-speed (we'll come back to that) a good city bike is one that you arrive on clean and presentable (or at least as much as you left the house). I want a nice clean belt-drive (this at least the bad-example above does get right) and I want it enclosed as much as practical. If I forget my bicycle clips I don't want that to mean that I need to buy a new set of trousers because of chain marks all down the right leg.
Some kind of secure compartment on the bike where my emergency toolkit can live without needing to stuff my multi-tool, pump etc into my pockets every time I go to the pub.
Integrated mudguards. This should be optional, not everyone lives in such a god-forsaken climate, but if you're selling a town bike in northern Europe then full guards, with mud-flaps should be there as an option.
An integrated rack. Again optional, but a key job of a proper city bike is to be able to transport stuff around. Personally I don't like cycling with a rucksack, give me somewhere for my stuff.
Security bolts on the wheel QRs. I don't want to be un-hitching a wheel every time I lock up, sorry, I just don't.
Tubeless tyres. Possibly a bit controversial this one, at the moment there isn't a lot of choice in road tubeless road tyres but, having switched to tubeless on the mountain bike about 5 years ago and not having had a puncture since, I'd like that same confidence in my city bike please.
Disc brakes. Again this is potentially a bit controversial but better modulation and more consistent braking in the wet is worth, to me at least, a slight weight penalty. Also brake pads are much cheaper to replace after a crappy winter than rims...
So if those are the constants, what are the variables?
Firstly I see two types of geometry being required; a sit-up-and-beg Amsterdam-style option for those who prefer to be upright and relaxed, and a more aggressive, compact set-up for those who like to go and play in the traffic and take a faster route (my preferred approach).
Secondly there is the variable of local geography; places like Cambridge, or York, or Amsterdam can be easily tackled on a single-speed bike. The topographies of Sheffield and Durham however, require gears.
Finally there is the matter of climate and all-year cycling; for some a full set of racks and mudguards is essential, for some lucky buggers (living in LA or Seville perhaps) rain is simply not worth worrying about and wet-weather protection is simply unnecessary mass.
From these variables I see a line of 8 bicycles being derived: two geometries, each offered in a hub-geared and single-speed version, with all 4 of these available in a fair-weather*** or all-weather flavour.
Below are some sketches suggesting how such a machine might look and work. Feel free to criticise the artwork but know that in doing so you are missing the point...
Front and rear would have two LEDs, a flasher and a constant. Both rears and the front flasher would be set up to disperse as much light as possible, the front constant beam would be correctly set up to light-up the road and not on-coming traffic. I think a 300 Lumen high-power and 150 lumen low-power should be sufficient for open roads and lit roads respectively.
Integrated lock and retention point:
A cable lock permanently attached at one end with a spring-retention mechanism to help with re-coiling the cable. The lock is designed to loop around a fixed object and lock on itself. I know it's not as secure as a D-lock but it has practical benefits and the lock you have with you is always better than the one you left at home. The rubber strap on the top-tube stops the lock head rattling around and is designed to be replaceable in the event of it perishing.
Simple bit of bent aluminium, attached to the frame with some security-head torx or allen-bolts. The lid lock is the same as the one on the main cycle lock so only one key is required. Large enough compartment for a spare-tube, a multi-tool, some instant patches and a couple of CO2 cannisters with an adaptor. Again not perfectly secure, but nothing is.
Initial thinking, Frame options and seat-tube cluster:
A basic upright frame and a compact variant. The kick up at the back of the compact top-tube is to ensure the rear light remains clear of any panniers or racks. The seat-tube cluster is designed so that the frame has a naturally compliant nature to offset the necessary size of the bottom-bracket area. Heavy use of hydro-forming is required but this can be done quite affordably now.
Throughout I have attempted to balance the requirements of integration with use of standard components, hence the lighting wiring doesn't go through the bars and stem, the rear light isn't built into the seat-post and the option remains to have a version without mudguards and rack so that standard after-market parts can be used.
I suspect you might not be able to hubs that have a dynamo / disc and gear / disc combo yet but I believe this will come along fairly quickly.
Looking at what's currently easily available it seems that Gazelle appear to be the closest I can find to this kind of approach but some bits really don't feel that integrated and the locks aren't really fit for purpose. They do seem like nice bikes though.
Anyway, that's my thoughts, what are yours?
* Well, 3 1/2 if you count my share of the tandem.
** This is widely recognised as the minimum number of bicycles by the way, if you were wondering.
*** N.B. Mounting points would still be included on the frame and forks of course.