Robert Hampton

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2nd August 2010

What I did during my weeks off

Why hello, Mr Blog. It’s been a while since the last time I put fingers to keyboard and inserted my text gently into your box.

Cover of temporary timetableSo what’s been happening? Well, Network Rail have decided to shut my local rail line down for five weeks for some major renovation work to the ageing tunnels between Liverpool Central and Brunswick. The Echo took the opportunity to employ their usual “public transport is shit” angle, theorising that the Mathew Street Festival could be disrupted (even though the engineering works are scheduled to finish before then, and there’s absolutely no reason to suspect that they will overrun).

I thought the extended closure and the subsequent bus usage would stress me out, but it hasn’t at all, mainly because the rail replacement bus service has actually been rather good. This was a surprise to me, as I’ve been sceptical about “bustitution” for a long time. This is, admittedly mainly due to an incident where I was stranded at Hooton for an extended period, after the provided Happy Al’s bus broke down before it even got out of the station car park. This time round however, Arriva have been doing a sterling job of running the show, despite some delays due to traffic congestion in town. A bus service is never going to be as good as a train, but this is as good as can be reasonably hoped for.

I’ve also been using the scheduled bus service (route 82) and it is rather nice to arrive at the stop and see the poster which reads “every 5 minutes”. I am free from the tyranny of timetables! I can just turn up when I feel like it! Woo!

Of course, its also handy to have your own transport as a backup, so I have finally taken steps to put right an oversight of mine which has been annoying me for some time. It’s a source of some shame and until very recently it wasn’t something I liked to admit to in polite company…

I never learned to ride a bike.

I know, you’re shocked and appalled, aren’t you?

You see, despite the best efforts of my parents to teach me when I was a kid, I never showed much interest in it. Because, let’s be honest, riding a bike would have involved leaving the house. And the house had cable TV and an Acorn A3010 computer in it. But recently, I’ve come to regret my sedentary childhood. I see people riding their bikes and they always seem to be having a really good time. So when my brother-in-law gifted me his old bike a few weeks back, I decided it was time to get some of that action for myself.

So Sunday afternoon found me in the car park of Otterspool Promenade, with my brave (some would say foolish) teacher Andrew Bromage. Having patiently explained that yes, tyres work best when they’re inflated, we went on with the task at hand.

Otterspool prom is a great place for cruising (so I’m told) but is probably not so good for a grown man who feels incredibly self-conscious to learn to ride a bike. For one thing, there were lots of people around — after days of cloud and rain we had received a rare day of sunshine and most of south Liverpool had seemingly converged on our location to experience it. Children frolicked on the nearby grass, elderly gentlemen walked their dogs, joggers in unflattering lycra sweated their way past, and (of course) there were lots of cyclists. Fortunately, few if any of them stopped to pay attention to the idiot and his companion on the adjacent tarmac.

We quickly hit on a good learning pattern. I would start pedalling while Andrew jogged alongside holding onto the bike. Then Andrew would let go and I would immediately fall off. This went on for the best part of an hour.

Cycling is harder than it looks, and it looks quite hard. Pedalling, maintaining balance, steering and looking where you’re going? That’s four things to do at once, and for a while it proved impossible. I persevered despite numerous incidents of falling onto Andrew, falling into a pile of weeds by the roadside or hitting the kerb and falling off. At least one person parked up in the car park saw what I was doing and moved his vehicle further away where there was less chance of me denting it.

After a while however, I had started to make progress and was able to go a few metres without losing my balance. My steering still wasn’t up to much however, and I usually ended up lurching to the right more severely than Nick Clegg (POLITICAL SATIRE) and crashing off the side of the road.

I’m not quite sure what happened, but after about two hours, something clicked, and I was able to ride in a straight line from one end of the car park to the other. Then I got really cocky and decided to push myself to the limit – yes, I steered round a corner. I was feeling really pleased with myself until I hit a pothole and lost my balance.

Fast forward another half an hour or so, and I was really pushing it and I was doing lap after lap around the car park.

Cycling on Otterspool Prom, 1st August 2010

(the above photo was taken mere seconds before I wobbled and crashed for the 79th time)

This was quite enough excitement for one day and we called it a day, but not before we arranged for another practice session in the near future. Despite the early setbacks, I felt strangely exhilarated by the whole experience and really pleased with the progress I made in that short time.

Picture of Robert's to-do listI’m not going to be entering the World Naked Bike Ride any time soon (thankfully for people’s eyes), but hopefully at some stage I will be able to go cycling purely for fun (and fitness).

So that’s one more thing crossed off my to-do list. Suffice to say, I’m really pleased with the way things are going at the moment. 🙂

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3 Responses
  1. Comment by Nick E
    4th August 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Not really crossed off Rob, more ticked off, judging by your pic. Not ticked off in an annoyed sense…oh forget it. Well done on the bike thing by the way.

  2. Pingback by Robert Hampton » Blog » Look on the Brighton Side
    26th August 2010 at 11:58 pm

    […] in the Scottish Highlands, there’s Andrew, who taught me (not entirely unsuccessfully) to ride a bike. Of course Scott was on there, but I didn’t actually meet him through the […]

  3. Pingback by Robert Hampton » Blog » Just for a change, a rant about transport
    16th October 2010 at 7:27 pm

    […] will soon be too expensive to use, and I still can’t afford to run a car. I’m glad I learned to ride a bike now. October 16th, 2010 | 7.27pm | In the News, Politics, Trains | Permalink | Trackback […]