Wednesday, 6 April 2011

In which I muse upon an anachronism

I feel as though I ought to apologise in advance, because I know full well I shall indulge myself in some unrestrained digression in this chapter. You will have to wait until halfway through to actually find out what the anachronism was.

The other day I was out and about in the town (I beg its pardon, the city of Brighton & Hove-actually) doing some of my usual errands. This generally consists of buying bananas for the Inexhaustible Baby, who has one for breakfast every morning. Note that I say advisedly 'has one' and not 'eats one'. Some mornings he devours his banana in the most gluttonous fashion as though he were indeed a starving million. On other days, most of it will 'adorn' the floor. And at this point I sigh for my previous life as a lady gainfully employed, who earned enough and was busy enough to justify to herself (and to Mr B) the employment of someone who obliged with the cleaning and ironing. Then I clean the rapidly decaying banana from the floor while the Inexhaustible plays watering cans on the table with his cup and the Infant Phenomenon takes half an hour to eat one extremely small apple.

I am no longer gainfully employed. Again, note that I say 'gainfully employed' not 'employed'. I am on the whole fully employed in trying to manage the household, persuade the Infant Phenomenon to eat and the Inexhaustible to sleep, as well as actually find a new avocation for myself. I look forward to the time when I will again receive those charming monthly billets-doux and corresponding augmentations of vulgar material wealth. In the meantime, in our attempts to master domestic economy and avoid expensive luxuries, I have changed the way in which I go about my shopping for groceries. Instead of simply doing one large Waitrose order online (as a lady in the 19th century would simply have ordered the cook to procure the necessary items for these dishes) and putting it away when the helpful delivery person has carried it into the kitchen for me, I now end up buying most of the crucial fresh foods in the usual way, but shopping for dry and tinned goods in less expensive emporia. The end result of this is that I seem to be perpetually shopping and - woe is me! - perpetually running out of something. So much for the Domestic Goddess. Perhaps I could aspire to be an Angel in the Home instead, that sounds much grander and one would expect such a lady to enjoy the ministrations of an excellent housekeeper...

Hence my frequent trips to the shops and we return at last to the day on which I spotted the anachronism. It was simply this: an elderly gentleman on a bicycle. I saw him twice and was incomprehensibly struck by his appearance. In an attempt to understand why I found him so noticeable, I have expended much thought (cooking, cleaning, ironing and shopping generally allow much time for such musings) on finding out why.

The first and most obvious reason is that he reminded me of one of my dear grandparents: my grandpapa in Ireland (the photo of Grandpapa below most kindly supplied by my dear aunt, Mrs F). He wasn't as handsome a gentleman as was my grandpapa, but he was dressed identically in the same kind of respectable overcoat and good flat cap. For some time, I put the strong impression down to this and indulged in fond memories of some of his inimitable sayings. ('He knows as much about that as a pig knows about a clean shirt' being one of my personal favourites.)

Then I started to reflect on what looked wrong about the picture because something was bothering me. I realised that in the not-entirely-appropriate wire shopping basket on the front of the bike (it should have been wicker), instead of the usual shopping bag there was a rucksack. I simply could not envisage this gentleman off his bike, in that garb and with a sports-type rucksack on his back. That was problem number one. Problem number two was that you generally don't see elderly people on bicycles any more. It used to be a common form of transport for people of all ages, but is so no longer. The omnibus and horseless carriage yes, but not the bicycle. Especially not in Brighton, which is excessively hilly and in consequence where you don't often catch me on my bicycle either (in spite of my former 'Urban Warrior Queen of Hyde Park Corner' status).

In fact, near my home you see many cyclists of the extremely dedicated and sporting kind: clad in all the correct accoutrements, which include helmets. Not flat caps. And so the list goes on. You often see people on bicycles without helmets (more fool them, frankly) but not in flat caps. They sport lycra shorts or tights and wraparound sunglasses, they glow in the dark like a Japanese nuclear reactor, they have particular shoes which clip to their pedals, specific kind of shirts with cunning pockets in odd places - and no shopping baskets on the front.

Some, myself included, will occasionally use the machine about daily tasks in the conviction that we are achieving our aims and getting the needful exercise as well. The bicycle, in the midst of our beautiful South Downs, is perhaps more of an extreme sport than a form of transport.

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