There he was, standing straight in front of me. I just couldn’t stop staring at him. Wearing a towel that barely covered his nether regions, this rotund, wild-haired, middle-aged man, was squaring-up to me like a confronted alpha-male gorilla – shoulders pulled back, chest puffed out & his midriff sucked in. While we stood, eyeballing each other for a few seconds, a noise similar to tyre suddenly being punctured, hissed from his mouth & his bloated abdomen descended rapidly to its natural, overhanging rest position. Then, in grotesque fascination, I watched as he placed his two hands either side of his belly & then performed what could only be described as a ‘truffle-shuffle’ – the vigorous wobble action, made famous by Chunk in the film ‘The Goonies’. When he had finished, a look of resignation appeared on his now ruddy face & we sighed together in perfect unison.
I was fast approaching 50 & by the look of it, quite possibly a heart attack. And as I looked in the mirror, wobbling my ‘beer baby’, I knew that something had to give – other than my trouser buttons.
My inner personal trainer immediately started bellowing orders at me to stop eating all those pies & to get my sizable backside off the sofa. ‘You need to do some exercise, lardy’, he said to me, but like a typical couch potato, I made lame excuses, arguing that this was easier said than done. I was well & truly trapped on the ‘stress merry-go-round’, that was work & family life, with very little time for anything else. Exercise, I decided, would have to somehow be incorporated in or around my work. The problem was how?
As a podiatrist I spend my day, clipping toenails or chiseling hard skin from peoples’ feet. Not the most glam of jobs I must admit, but it beats doing a proper job for a living. Pondering my exercise conundrum, it flashed through my mind that I could visit my patients on a bicycle. Yes, why not indeed, I thought to myself. My eyes widened & I drifted off, Scooby-doo style into a daydream, where I was the Pedalling Podiatrist – saviour of the planet & old peoples’ feet. When I came back to earth, I immediately began to consider the practicalities involved with using two-wheels instead of four. The main problem I faced was that my patch extended from Reading in Berkshire to Winchester in Hampshire & there was no way I would be able to cover all the distance by pedal power alone. No, alas I would still have to use the car to undertake the bulk my journey & then use a bike to go from patient to patient. So I decided that I would need a bike that was a) versatile enough to carry all my kit & b) portable enough to be stowed easily in the boot. It was then that I considered a Brompton. These diminutive wheeled bikes, which hold favour with commuters the world over, fold-up to a size that can be stored easily in a luggage rack on a train, so after spending many hours admiring pictures of pretty girls riding them on the internet, I made my way to my local bike shop for a demo. Following a brief conversation* with my manager (my wife) on the phone, I handed over an arm & a leg to purchase my very own Brompton.
(*The kind of conversation that all husbands have with their wives when they want to spend lots of money on yet another highly-functional, ‘can’t-possibly-live-without’, utterly essential piece of necessary equipment, that is often kept in the shed, just for emergencies)
Three weeks later & my new black, six-speed Brompton was ready to be collected. Bouncing into the bike shop, I was like an excited child at Christmas-time. “The name is Street & I have come to collect my Brompton” I said proudly to the young, tattooed whippersnapper behind the counter. A wry smile appeared on his face as he disappeared off into the store room. When he returned, still smirking*, he proceeded to demonstrate the fold mechanism & a list of do’s & don’ts, for the said bike. To carry all my bits & pieces that I needed on the front-line, or should I say toe-line, I purchased a funky waterproof bag that attaches to a block thingy on the front of the bike & a nifty zipped-roll saddle bag for essentials such as sandwiches, Mars bars & maybe a waterproof jacket. When I finally left the shop with my new mode of transport in one hand & my bags in the other, the spotty youth kindly suggested that I should thoroughly read the manual – especially the bit about the bikes maximum weight limit. Another one for my ‘Hit List’, I thought to myself….
*The Smirk – this will be the subject of another blog article
That evening, I gave my family repeated demonstrations on ‘the fold’ & I started to pack my bags (work bags that is – the wife hadn’t quite shown me the door after my latest acquisition). I was getting tooled-up ready to be deployed behind enemy lines, well, somewhere into Basingstoke, anyway.
What the people at Brompton forget to tell you, is that riding one of their bikes is actually great fun & can seriously alter your life. Although I initially brought it for work purposes, I soon started to use the bike for virtually everything – shopping, the school run, going to the pub, even my leisurely evening & weekend bimbles were being undertaken on two, rather small wheels. Very slowly my love handles disappeared & I started to feel a lot healthier. I also started to feel more chilled out about things – especially about my business. As a dawdler by nature, I had really struggled with the whole ‘working your conkers off & make as much money as possible’ concept. So when I started to use the Brompton for my visits, instead of taking the car for the bulk of the journey, I started to take the train instead. Not only did I not have the stress of driving, but it also forced me to set a maximum of 10 patients per day – I physically couldn’t carry more than 10 sets of equipment on the bike. For the first time in ages, I had time in the day to stop for a cup of tea & a slab of cake. I even stopped for a lunch break. Then at the end of the day, after easily notching up 10 patients & 20 to 30 stress-free miles on the Brompton, I could happily take a seat on the train, look out the window & celebrate doing a great days work (occasionally with a cheeky can of Magners).
So if you happen to see a chap cycling around Alresford, Basingstoke, Winchester or Reading, grinning like a loon, on what looks like an odd-looking childs bike, give him a wave. It just might be me…