Owning a bike is an emotional investment. There’s no two ways about it. Your bike takes you places. You take pride in it. Sometimes you brag about it to your friends. It helps you to defy traffic by flying past giant metal boxes on wheels sat stationary in gridlock. You glide through the wind, coast in the glory of the sun; sometimes it even makes the 9 mile commute pure pleasure.
So, if you’re a cyclist and you live in a city, you probably also know the heartbreak that I felt in January when I opened the door to my East London flat to find the woeful and pathetic assembly of parts you see above. You could have taken a jagged, rusty dagger, thrust it into my abdomen, twisted hard and repeated and you would come somewhere close to appreciating how I felt. To reappropriate Shylock, the curse never fell upon my nation until that moment. I never felt it until then.
I might as well come out and say it: I loved that bike. We had come home from our week long holiday in Copenhagen, an absolutely brilliant cycling city, last February, having had the healthiest and most exhilarating vacation we’d ever known, cycling through snow, over bridges and rivers, through settlements and hipster hangouts and we came back having been bitten by the bug. We were determined to acquire ourselves wheels upon our return to the metropolis.
Before Denmark, I hadn’t really cycled in years, but it didn’t take long to fall in love with zipping speedily down urban thoroughfares, drunk with the power that comes with the speed and control of my own muscles, reawakening after sleeping lazily in a near atrophic state for years. I was surprised to notice — actually notice from day to day — becoming physically stronger in partnership with my two-wheeled 6 speed wonder. I went from a 5 and half mile limit to 9 miles in just over 40 minutes rapidly (Oi, serious cyclists! Stop laughing. I was doing well) and with that came such a euphoric sense of accomplishment — all from pushing with my two legs in a cyclical motion.
All right. I know in the end it all comes down to an endorphin rush, but at the time, it was an epiphany. And my bike and I were one. If you are a cyclist or passionate about anything, you know the feeling.
And then it was savaged. My beautiful machine.
No. It wasn’t stolen. I would almost have rather they had done that. At least there is some finitude in a clean theft, some sense of closure. No. Some very talented and very vile scum patiently — but quickly I imagine and with help I imagine — picked my bike clean and left its bare skeleton clothed in nothing but its rear brake calipers still locked to the signpost to which it had been fastened for nearly a year.
Words are difficult at such points. If it’s happened to you, you know that all you see is red. I saw red. Blood and danger and fiercely marching Soviet red. And all I could think was, “Please. Let there be a hell. Let it be good and hot, full of hungry serpents, sizzling vats of oil brewed just for torment, pits of spikes and chains from which you may be fettered while vultures peck at your flesh inducing everlasting pain. Let there be a hell of boundless pain. And drop all bike thieves right down in the bottom of it.”
Dramatic? Perhaps, but if you know the feeling, I think you’ll probably agree, my response is quite a liberal one.
Want to know the kicker? I’ve had two bikes stolen since! One, a Dahon Matrix acquired fairly quickly after the Access, lifted at night, liberated from its quick-release wheel, which the spiteful spawn of Satan left me with.
The last one, most recently, was a find off gumtree that I counted myself lucky to acquire: A Dahon Dream, a model rare in Britain, built for the domestic Chinese market, but after acquiring a loyalty for Dahon and Raleigh, I know any Dahon is going to be well built. All for £60. That’s right. £60!
Alas. It seems the brotherhood of Hackney Bike Thieves have made me a marked man.
I thought I had finally hit on the perfect security system. I had started packing away my folding bike (I’ve become quite attached to the urban flexibility of folders) in the trunk of my car. So far, so safe.
And then, after three weeks of riding around this lovely little ride, just three weeks, I rode home late one friday, having babysat for a friend, locked away my orange wonder, thought nothing else of it until two days later when I opened the trunk of my car and was met with this:
I must have started becoming calloused. After being hit for a third time and after 30 seconds of taking in the full impact of the emptiness that lay before me and what happened, I nearly shrugged.
Then the litany of profanity followed. As near as I can figure, some local, morally depraved trolls must have seen me putting my bike in the trunk, picked my lock and neatly plucked the bike out. Bloody hell. At this point, I started to feel bereft of any reason to have an iota of faith in humanity.
I’m not a fan of putting profanity on this blog, but I thought this image I found by a righteous defender of the cycling faithful just warmed the heart.
And one of the worst aspects of this whole thing is that I leave my home now looking around at people in the street with narrowed eyes thinking, “Which one of you, huh? Which one of you did it?” Was it the youths on the corner or the vegan anarchist volunteers in the cafe downstairs? It really is anyone’s guess.
According to statistics from 2011, there are over 22,000 bike thefts in London reported every year and I live in one of the worst boroughs for it (Hackney, over 1500 thefts annually). I didn’t report my second one and my first one I was told by the police that there wasn’t much point. I suppose it’s supposed to be, “a comfort to those that are wretched to have companions in misery,” but somehow it just makes me want to give up the hobby altogether.
I’m not of course. Criminal vermin won’t scare me off the roads that easily. But I’ve learned some lessons:
- If you care about it, insure it.
- If you’ve got a folding bike, do the logical thing and keep it inside.
- Register your bike with the police. Might not make any difference, but at least you’ve done all you can.
With that in mind, somewhat incredibly, I find myself trawling ebay again, search terms: Dahon/Raleigh folding bike. I don’t foresee the financial grounding until next month, but it’s nice to look. It’ll never be like that Raleigh Access, but I’ll get on my bike and ride.
Before I moved to London, natives told me that no real Londoner spends time in Central London. “Oh it’s for tourists,” they would insist. I could not see how that was possible. After all, Johnson’s adage is true: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” The humming hub of central London, The West End, is teeming with life and buzz and character. We spent many a weekend for what seemed like the first few years of our existence in the capital exploring vintage stores and vegetarian restaurants, cocktail bars and coffee shops that secreted cool.
But hey, you discover a beautiful area like Hackney, you buy a nice place, decorate it with reclaimed, exposed brick, distressed g plan and suddenly you’ve carved a corner of this city for yourself outside of which you rarely have to roam. You think, is there really any point in squeezing, sardine-like, onto the tube to meander around streets immersing oneself in the ubiquitous commercial glitz of the chain store on the Great British High Street, only to compress your body mass once again, bracing yourself for the depths of the Central Line on the way home?
The Missus and I braved it anyway on Tuesday, gluttons for punishment that we are. I had the day off for the Jewish holiday of Shmini Atzeret and we seemed to find ourselves in possession of that rarest of commodities: free time.
So head into the West End we did and surprise surprise, I would rate the journey as okay to moderately pleasant, walking around W1 and environs therein reminded me more of a flaneuristic stroll than a claustrophobic squeeze and most joyously surprising of all was that as we were walking back towards Holborn, hankering for a cup of joe and eager to avoid the blandness of Costa and the burnt yet saccharine putridity of a beverage from a Seattle based chain that will remain unnamed, we stumbled upon Salt (pictured above), a lovely little place and a rare find in touristy central London. Salt is stylishly designed, has a great menu, and a lovely and welcoming atmosphere. It feels much more contemporary East End/Hackney than West End/Covent Garden partly because of the choices made in arranging the sleek and aesthetically pleasing interior and partly because of their choice of coffee — the eminently delectable Square Mile Roasters based in (where else?) the East End, bohemian Bethnal Green to be precise. Employees were cordial and the coffee was smooth, subtle and well crafted as is in evidence below. Tables were high, oblong and affixed to corners and walls, enjoyed atop chic stools from East London Furniture with lattes and flatties served in charmingly mismatched china and glasses.
Big deal. It’s a coffee shop. Doppio a dozen. Why am I so impressed? I’m impressed because you rarely find an enticing independent establishment that’s able to peep out from below brash and bulky elbows of the crowded together conglomerations of corporate cappuccino-serving froth factories in the center of this grand metropolis. Generally speaking, the options for tourists (Yanks and otherwise) range from Nero (bland) to Pret (organic bland) to the aforementioned Seattle-based chain (a taste of home bland) with not much in between. In the East End, you find that enterprising, libertarian spirit from Roman Road Market clear across to Murder Mile, but giving tourists in the ole Covent Garden a taste of high quality espresso for moderately low prices? This place gets kudos for bravery, ambiance, and caliber of product.
So, visiting compatriots, when you are around the market or The Actors Church or The Transport Museum and you want a delicious lunch at a decent price followed by elation-inducing double espresso, this place is not more than a stone’s throw and worth making the time to find.
Salt is located at 34 Great Queen Street, Covent Gardent WC2B 5AA open from 7.30 am – 7 pm Mon-Fri, 10 am – 7 pm Sat, closed on Sun. www.saltwc2.co.uk
|Taken from The Planktonic Players blog.|
I have to admit, I like the concept of the Olympics. I like the idea of the whole world being united in a sporting contest that goes back to antiquity and encourages a striving for excellence in physical abilities as well as sportsmanship. I like the idea of sport, unmotivated by lots of corporate sponsorship and greed as it seems football is here in England (and Baseball was in the 1990s, when I stopped following my team, The Mets, because I lost faith in players during the strike). And in some weird, perverse, London way, I feel a sense of pride that we got the games. But being an adoptive Londoner, I think I’ve also acquired a kind of second-nature scepticism about waves of positivity sweeping over a place like a juggernaut leaving nothing but vitamin C and sunshine in its wake. It smacks of the worst of blind American optimism and as Springsteen said, blind faith in your leaders, or anything, will get you killed.
Mowing down the Marshes
Roll up, roll up, Olympic festival fans, it’s Walthamstock
‘Last year the council secretly signed a contract to lease the land to the firm, hoping that a share of the profits from the deal would help pay the estimated £1.5million bill for its ‘Big 6′ series of events to celebrate the Olympics.’
A cynical person might think Waltham Forest was milking the games for all it was worth.
Branded like Cattle
We grew up with names like Flo Jo, Greg Luganis, Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson ringing with heroic clarity in our heads. And even in this short but famous list, only the reputations of of Joyner and Luganis remain intact. Lewis is still dogged today with the cloud of controversy caused by his testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul and still being allowed to compete. Canadian Johnson famously tested positive and was stripped of his gold medal the same year. Such was the pressure of the freshly minted money-fed sponsorship-driven games that a slew of Athletes are alleged to have taken steroids and got away with it. Is it pure coincidence that this unethical practice became popular in the wake of the games going corporate? This was an atmosphere that was capable of corrupting even Canadian athletes. Canadians, I say. Canadians! When you’ve got to the point where can wreck the moral compass of the good founders of The Peaceable Kingdom up north, all hope is very nearly lost.
In efforts to protect trademark rights, you are not allowed to consume anything made by anyone outside of those producers who are official Olympic sponsors. Bog standard confidence trick: advertise freemarket and freechoice, get the punters inside, eliminate the choice and jack up the price, thus annihilating any image the games ever projected of being a competition of pure, uncorrupted athletic prowess for the sake of athletic prowess.
The death of Angolan refugee Jimmy Mubenga whilst in the custody of G4S guards on a flight from Heathrow to Angola
Hiring confessed murderers as security guards
Carrying out the government’s deportation policy while sustaining 773 complaints of those that were within their custody
Failing to fulfill the contract to keep The Olympics safe in 2012
Hiring a director with really bad hair. I’m no one to talk, but if you had as much money as a CEO with a company like this, wouldn’t you try to look like you were older than 14?
When you wade through cliches, slogans and soundbites like ‘take the stage’, ‘London prepares’ and ‘Take the respect’, what do you have left at the centre of all the smoke and mirrors? We seem to have a London that has taken performance-enhancing security firms, regulations and cash injectiosn in order to improve its performance as a city this summer. It would probably be wise for us as Londoners to bear in mind that the Olympics committee chose London, in all its brash and savage beauty, not some sanitized, tarted up, Americanised caricature of itself.
This post has also been informed by the following two articles:
|Photo: Teri Pengilley, Copyright The Guardian|
My Jewish colleagues, a number of them from Hackney old East End Jewish families born and bred in Clapton only to later drift north to Boreham Wood, expressed no small amount of shock at my plans to enjoy The Clapton Festival this weekend. And it is funny how much Hackney has changed.
From a village adjacent to London where wealthy merchants came to buy big houses and retire (so, the Essex or New Jersey of the 16th Century then?) to a run down borough best known for its high incidence of knife crime; rough, cheap, ‘bohemian’, ‘ethnic’ area with ‘a lot of character’ to gentrified destination for the hip and famous. Now the cool seems to be spreading and with it the decent coffee shops and some of the fun too. Some people have complaints, but I have to say, the effects, on balance, seem good for Hackney, which is one of the reasons I’m looking forward to The Second Annual Clapton Festival. The other is, there really will be something on for everyone, so if you’re passing East or not, but in London this weekend, make time. There may be scoffing and a bit of ‘far from that I was rared’ from those who know Hackney of old, but you won’t regret it.
This weekend it was The London Coffee Festival at The Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane. Sounded like a festival designed just for me and it did not disappoint.
Tickets were £9.50 and so naturally, I start thinking in American buffet mode: must get money’s worth. The canvas bag they hand out at the door does not look promising, holding a few periodicals on beer and coffee geekery and a couple ‘coffee bags’. Thankfully, this did turn out to be a very generous festival.
We start at The True Artisan Cafe area, with a very smooth Flat White from the good people at Caravan Coffee. I waited eagerly, crisp £20 note in hand, waiting to hand our lank, baggy-shirted, floppy-haired baristas, nervously looking around for a price list and wondering if everyone else knew the etiquette because they were just a bit more clued in to the world of coffee than I was. Niggling away at me was the feeling that you can’t possibly have a nice coffee in London for free. My eyes darted around to search the hands at the front of the line for any sign of an exchange of cash for caffeine. None was evident. Then, I ordered: four flat whites, two babycinos. Still no charge. I issued a silly, unnatural sounding laugh as I walked away with my drinks, feeling like I’d got away with it. Naturally, I hadn’t. I’d paid £9.50. Our tickets were good for three hours in the coffee festival. I suddenly realised, I better get drinking.
It turned out that actually, you would be rather naive to pay for any caffeinated beverage at this celebration of all things java. Etiquette, as my wife, Paula, shrewdly sussed, was that if there were prices up, you paid. If there weren’t, you didn’t. And there were plenty of tradesman who were happy to serve you high-quality cup after cup just expounding on their wealth of expertise and experience, thankfully sans snobbery of any kind.