by Nico Lee
Where once the tiny chippings seemed to spin in graceful arabesques now only the sickening lurch of tarmac, the towns and villages formed in miniature from congealed lumps of black, sticky residue, all goes flying past, the brakes off, the feet no longer in horizontal accord with the earth, the firm conviction that when the board finally comes to a stop I won’t still be lying on it.
The bridge is approaching fast, a convergence of bollards, cobblestones and sheer, crumbling walls of at least four feet of York stone…
When they laid the ‘cycle superhighway’ it offered no promise of adventure, except for those souls intent on cycling the wrong way towards Leeds or Bradford whilst flouting any notion that a highway may have a code. Large lads on tiny bikes, hoodies, sweat-pants tucked into socks and dying blunts gripped resolutely between wonky teeth, always racing away from something… Occasionally you’d see a family, the father up front, miles ahead, his progeny strung out behind, a crocodile of puffing ducks, the mother bringing up the rear with each subset of ten yards gained just another chance for the dog, whose lead constantly tangled her back wheel, to find another excuse to detour off the true path and follow his nose. Why would someone who walked everywhere care anyway? Well, at least it kept them off the pavement… almost.
Then something magical happened. A unified policy. The track that led from Stanningley Road’s main cycle path down to the canal was deemed unfit for purpose. So after years of gravel, stones, lumps of pig-iron, Coke cans, dog shit and the tears of toddlers with grazed knees being deemed reasonable materials for maintaining a public walkway, suddenly the council decided that tarmac was the way to go. If you’re an adult does that matter? If you’d grown used to standing upright whilst below you the ground slid like an avalanche in the opening credits of a Bond movie, then what difference did this make?
Isn’t that a term earned rather than strictly bestowed by time?
What if you’re in your forties… and you could afford to splash out on a new skateboard?
What if the term ‘adult’ is relative?
I mean you’re older.
The last time you skateboarded, you were disappointed your best friend had revealed crucial plot elements of The Return of the Jedi… but you were still looking forward to the movie. The last time you skateboarded you hadn’t a clue who Tony Hawk was but you did aspire to be Evel Knievel. The last time you skateboarded you took flight over the coping and… To be honest, you had never been one of those kids who sailed through the air like a bag of flour let loose from the third storey window of a windmill in the middle of the kind of wild night of bacchanalian excess that only three bakers and the miller’s wife could achieve on learning that Paul Hollywood had mentioned, on national TV no less, that their mix of artisan farina made an excellent bulking agent. I’m trying to say, you’re not a big air guy, you know the kind of defiers of gravity I mean? Those tousled-haired skaters for whom coltish awkwardness and angelic grace seemed melded into one unlikely package?
No, that wasn’t you, never had been.
Instead you’d always ridden at speed down hills
as a kid, your body flat-out, close to the rushing
ground with no knowledge of the term ‘street luge’
because this was the eighties and extreme sports
was having a cricket ball thrown at your head by
your PE teacher, when understandably you weren’t
paying attention to a grown man who thought that
making teenage boys run up and down a field in
the broiling heat was somehow a calling…
That’s what life does.
So, what if you’d gotten old too?
Feeling as old as a PE teacher?
As old as someone for whom sport is a regret, a thing they could have done, if only they’d been a little faster, a little stronger, a little more… I dunno, any good?
What if, and it’s crucial to state this again, what if you’re in your forties now?
What if you’re now reaching terminal velocity.
What if you’re now reaching terminal velocity with no notion of how to stop.
What if you’re now reaching terminal velocity with no notion of how to stop and with the full realisation that this will hurt so much more than a cricket ball to the head?
Everything above I managed to think in the time it takes for someone with skills to perfect an exit strategy.
Instead you got this.
It’s my gift.