On the walk to my former employment at Hardacre Collage, the spelling mistake where I taught ESOL, there were many adventures over twenty years. For instance I had a stalker in a van, whose peskiness ended with such a satisfying crunch, as you can see in the last two posts. Saying hello to bicycle man was less spectacular, but it was very British, and even heart-warming. Bicycle man was the very opposite of van man.
I don't know when I first saw him. Eventually he was always there, as I was too probably. I would be walking north wearing a blue hooded jacket in the winter, a jacket and tie in warmer months, and just a shirt and tie if it was hot. Naturally there would be trousers and so forth. I always had a bag, mostly with my lunch in it and the sort of anxieties teachers always carry disguised as books and a diary. Bicycle man would of course be on a bicycle, coming south towards me. In winter he wore yellow waterproofs and looked hot, especially if he was cycling standing up. In warmer months he wore lycra and looked hot. But it was cheery hot, not angry hot. He and I would cross paths anywhere on the twenty-five-minute walk between the shops at the top of my road to the big gloomy metallic buildings that acccidentally comprise the physical structure of Hardacre Collage. Where we crossed paths exactly depended on whether it was nearer ten to eight or twenty past, and on how each of us was going for time, and maybe on the phases of the moon.
The British part in all this was how long it took to get to a conversational exchange. At some point I must have gone "Here comes bicycle man," just as he must have gone "Here comes walking man." This phase certainly lasted many months and possibly took years. Phase two was transitional: not ignoring became faint smile - a delicate stage this, especially in bad weather or heavy traffic. Once we got to nodding, the dam burst and the first word in all our many conversations was exchanged. "Morning." Notice no exclamation mark yet. That followed later. Then we were away, with full-blown waving, thumbs up, the works. As night follows day, there came the second word. "Alright?" There is no answer to that question especially passing at a combined speed, I estimate, of at least twelve miles an hour. So there we were, in a two-word matehood:
Perhaps, sometime in July he said to himself "Where's walking man?" He may have then gone "Ah-ha, summer holidays - happened last year." At the end of August he may have gone "'Expect I'll see walking man soon."
Dear bicycle man, sorry to disappoint. And before you ask, no, I haven't retired. It was the cuts - funding, that kind of thing. Yes, very true. Bastards! At the moment? Oh, you know, this and that. How are things with you and wherever it is you cycle to? Oh well, hang on in there. There's a lot of it about.
And here they are, words three and four: "Cheers then!"