Sea story: learning to ride (1953)

1952-Austin pedal carWhen I was four and five, Mom was the buyer for a national toy company. As you can imagine, we had obscene Christmases, because she could get the latest toys and games for wholesale or less. 1952-Princess_Elizabeth_watches_her_son_Prince_Charles_playing_in_his-toy carI remember having a pedal-powered Austin car identical to that of Prince Charles (his was green; mine was cream-coloured), and such luxuries.

The downside of being a national buyer in those days was all the travel. So Mom put us in boarding school at Sunny Hills in Hockessin, Delaware. We enjoyed it, surrounded by kids our age in a safe place. That is where I started first grade. David and I lasted less than a semester, but that is a different sea story…

On of my favourite “toys” was a bicycle, which I loved to ride all over the campus, as fast as my little legs could pedal. It had training wheels, of course, which I trusted the way that we depend on seats belts today. Most of the other boys were already riding on two wheels, and they taunted me about my training wheels. But I was adamant: I absolutely would not let anyone touch those faithful guardians of my skin and pride.

One day, one of the teachers was watching me fly around the curves and race the other kids. It was a sunny autumn day,  the country air fresh and invigorating. He stopped me at the end of the drive.

“Jonathan, why do you have those training wheels?” he asked.

Terrified that an authority figure was about to remove them, I shouted, “Please don’t touch them. I’m afraid to fall!”

“But Jonathan, they’re not doing any good.” He smiled and put his hand on my shoulder. “Get off the bike and I will show you.”

I obeyed, and I looked where he pointed as he held my bike by the handlebars and rocked it back and forth.

“See? The training wheels have come loose and pulled up just like the landing gear of an airplane. They are so high that they don’t touch the ground when you turn. You are already riding on two wheels.”

I was dumbfounded. Yet I still had to articulate the obvious (a habit I would not soon break).

“You mean I don’t need them?”

“Nope.” He pulled an adjustable spanner (crescent wrench) from his coat pocket. “Would you like to take them off? I’ll help.”

I put out my hand and nodded. Together, we removed the training wheels, which he held while I remounted and cautiously started down the drive. It felt exactly the same.

Night Rider

Photo by Meredith Coe

I don’t know what he did with the training wheels, but the rest is history.

DSCN0737Trip update: Francesca and Gary hosted me over last weekend and Monday. Francesca is a top translator (English>Italian) in the American Translators Association. Though I have known her for a long time, this was my first visit to her home. DSCN0750A former rugby player and referee, Gary now rides sportives on a bicycle that weighs as much as my water bottles. Over the weekend, we hung out, worked at our respective translations, and walked Central London, which is an exciting palette of cultures, colours, and history even on a Sunday.

DSCN0760On Tuesday, Gary led me 22 km along the North Embankment of the Thames to Richmond, where he turned off to work out riding around Richmond Park. It felt great to be able to look around and enjoy the ride, because someone else was showing me the way. It also felt good to have my brakes working better than new. DSCN0735A shout out to Mark Stebles of Mark’s Bicycle Repair in Oprington, who adjusted both the disk pads and the cables on Saturday morning when I stopped on my way to London. After Gary and I parted ways, I continued to Twickenham, where I would stay with Emanuele and Anna for the rest of my stay in London. DSCN0753Quite coincidentally, my AirBnB hosts happen to be Italian, so we have had a grand time together, with English only spoken outside the home.

I got to Twickenham so early that I was able to connect with my high school classmate and best friend Luca that same afternoon. IMG_20160621_173341Luca gave me a windshield tour of Richmond, the Thames, Petersham, and Twickenham. Richmond (formerly Shene) was named by the Duke of Richmond (Yorkshire), who settled there in the 12th Century and built the palace/castle in which Henry I, Henry VII, Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I lived. IMG_20160621_164353Petersham is where Captain John Vancouver settled when he retired from his voyages. His grave at St. Peter’s Church is the best-kept in the churchyard. Twickenham, across the river from Richmond, was always important, because it was here that the last of the locks on the Thames blocked seagoing traffic. IMG_20160621_162745One can see the tide swell and ebb from the embankment. Here warehouses proliferated, supporting the transshipment of goods from the interior to the rest of the world. Until Edwardian times (late 19th Century), it was open countryside. IMG_20160621_181459Then a massive urban sprawl accompanied the late Industrial Revolution, as the newly prosperous bourgeoisie sought suitable housing and healthier air. Indeed, most of the homes in Twickenham seem to date from the Edwardian era, giving it a quaint and pleasant appearance.

Wednesday, I ran errands around Twickenham: posting a gift to son Daniel, buying an Oyster card (smart card for the transit system), inspecting and booking a storage locker for my bicycle, and enjoying lunch at the William Webb Ellis pub.DSCN0744 I am deliberately trying to stay up and get up later each day, as I prepare for the flight next week.

Thursday, Her Majesty’s subjects voted in the referendum to leave or stay in the European Union. The three-day shutdown of campaigning in the wake of the murder of MP Jo Cox seemed to snuff the fervor of the campaign in the City on both sides. I don’t think that it ever quite returned to its former levels before the polls opened. As the rain fell in buckets, I stayed in and worked on the book that I am translating.

Yesterday, I awoke to the news that England had voted the UK out of the European Union (Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to stay in). A shame in many ways, and yet another reminder that the dominant Anglo culture in my country comes by its arrogance and insularity honestly. 2016-Oyster cardI kitted up, and took advantage of the sunshine to reconnoiter some of the places that I planned to visit. The Oyster card gives me access to the Underground, the Overground, parts of British Rail, the buses, the ferries and the cable car. First, I took the Overground to Hampstead Heath, then climbed Christ Church Hill in Hampstead, which was steep, but not difficult sans panniers. DSCN0761Then I zoomed downtown to the Tate Museum of Modern Art, which had moved into a decommissioned coal-fired power plant since I was last in London. DSCN0782I had an easy to ride home in the evening rush hour: just keep turning toward the sun. I passed Richmond Park, but decided to save that for another day.

Today, I rode west into the “country”: around north of Heathrow Airport on Bath Road to Eton and Windsor, DSCN0786then back through the picturesque villages of Chertsey and downtown Twickenham. I stopped to shop at the Tesco supermarket for supper. My hosts have been feeding me, and I am returning the favour tonight. I will resume my sightseeing next week.


Until next week,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


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