I like to think of myself as a not entirely superficial character, but I’m not immune to the odd moment of jealousy. I’m not talking about jealousy on a grand scale; a moment’s thought is probably enough to realise that looking like Rosie Huntington-Whitely or being as rich as Bill Gates is not the key to a happy ever after. But the odd pang of envy when I walk past a beautiful house is something I will admit to. When I see somebody so calm, immaculate and serene that I can only assume they never have to clean a bathroom or scrub a roasting tin, or when I see a woman wearing bright white jeans without coffee spilt all over them, the thought ‘if only’ does cross my mind.
Whenever such feelings spring themselves upon me, I console myself by thinking of all of the burdens that must accompany such set-ups. Owning that picture perfect cottage by the sea must mean that you can never justify going on holiday anywhere else. You’re going to feel far more stressed about your flashy sports car being scraped by a rubbish truck than you are about your old banger being subjected to a few extra (and I like to think characterful) bumps. That adorable puppy has probably had a fair few accidents on a cream carpet in its time. Instructing somebody to clean up after me would not make me feel all that great.
Having recently acquired the smartest bike I’ve ever owned (a new Dawes Galaxy Plus touring bike) I have started to experience some of the guilt that comes with privilege first hand. (I have discovered, much to my dismay, that the guilt is not of the kind or magnitude that outweighs the pleasure of owning the thing, so I will indulge my jealousy next time I read about some celebrity’s holiday villa on the Amalfi Coast.) I should be using this bike more. I should be taking it on proper, long cycles I find myself thinking too frequently.
And so it was that Richard and I set off from Clapham last Wednesday morning for a mini cycling adventure around London. Water bottles filled, ample snacks packed and new Peloton jerseys on, my eagerness was slightly tempered by the prospect of careering through busy London traffic. Once we got underway though, I really did start to enjoy myself. Thanks to a carefully chosen route, the traffic wasn’t much of an issue. Richard had got hold of some brilliant free maps from the Transport for London website and if you haven’t done so already, I implore you to do the same. With Local Cycling Guides 9 and 10 slipped neatly into the larger pockets on the back of our jerseys, we were delighted to discover how easy it is to escape the noisy chaos of urban living using only pedal power.
Accessing Richmond Park via Wimbledon Common was a particular highlight. Despite spending our lives in such proximity to Wimbledon, we had never realised what a rambling, rural place it is. No wonder the Wombles set up home there. I, for one, feel that they deserve a bit more credit for choosing this as the setting for their wombling free. Whizzing along dirt tracks through woodland, the sun glittering through the trees and a stream bubbling below us, it was difficult to imagine that we were in a city. After a brief rest on a bench in Richmond Park, we hopped back on our bikes and found the Thames Cycle Path, which we followed as far as Hampton Court. Our enthusiasm for London cycling at an all time high, we tucked into what we felt was a well earned lunch before heading back.
Unfortunately our eagerness to get to the pub got the better of us and instead of heading back along peaceful paths, we opted for a more daredevil, road route. Richard seems to make light work of zigzagging between queues of cars waiting at traffic lights, but my fearful grimace extends throughout my whole body, every muscle bracing itself for the moment that I am sent flying by a van changing lanes. There was no option but to grit my teeth and get on with it, and I felt strangely exhilarated to have survived by the time we pulled up outside The Windmill pub on Clapham Common.
With Richard watching the bikes, I went in to order him a pint and myself the largest glass of wine they could manage. Cold white wine in hand and bags of crisps stuffed into every pocket, I was just thinking that things couldn’t get much better when the barman casually remarked, “I like your cycling top. Where did you get it?” When I replied, “I designed it myself” he laughed awkwardly, obviously wondering how to deal with what he seemed to think was a very odd form of flirtatious banter. (When you consider the red, sweaty, helmet-haired state I was in at the time, the poor man must have been particularly alarmed.) I explained that really, Richard and I are making these jerseys ourselves and selling them, at which point he visibly relaxed and said “wow. They look really professional. Great job!” Feeling satisfied (and a tiny bit smug) I delivered Richard’s pint into his very grateful hands and we began to discuss where our bikes should take us next.