From Jester To King C
By Simon Barget
Another random incident from my youth.
I used to ride to school with my bike and the landscape was rugged and wild, there was often no path, and you found yourself having to push as hard as you could through this raw ground where rocks would come up from nowhere and you had to take care not to ride over them. And the bike was not suited to it at all even though it was a mountain bike, and it would often get stuck or there’d be some other mishap to make sure not to fall foul of. But the landscape was as quaint as it was majestic, something reminded me of Nepal or Snowdonia, something ambling and rolling and where one soft hill ended another began, and there was never a harshness of gradient or anything severe, and there were orchards at the sides of some fields and not others, and then bridges of stone that crossed over streams, and you never knew what lay the other side of the stream until you got there, each piece was hidden, and you didn’t know what lay ahead of you until you got there, until you reached the dividing point, and this was the charm of the place, that you couldn’t see it all in one go from one vantage point but had to wait to get closer before the magic unfolded.
This time I was going along nicely, the bicycle was flowing, my legs must have been strong, and I think I sang as I went. Until suddenly, a puncture. And it wasn’t gradual at all, the front wheel popped and lost all of its air in one go. And then I looked down with this terrible feeling of helplessness, of having not the faintest idea of what to do next, and carrying the bike all the way was impossible since it was so heavy and I was so weak, and I think part of me just wanted to dump this useless bike, this thing that had gone so quickly from something I was invested in to something I wanted rid of, something that needed to be cast off before I could replace it, before I could move on with my life.
But then as if from nowhere at the end of the bridge I see Nigel Thornton, and though I hadn’t noticed him coming at all I didn’t think anything of it since he was just one of the boys from school, one I never conversed with, one of those people you have this tacit agreement with that you won’t talk to each other, not so much that you don’t like each other, more that the arrangement has arisen out of habit, that there is no great urge to break it, and so you might as well carry on turning a blind eye. But there was also something about seeing him which caught me unawares; it felt like I hadn’t seen him in ages, almost like we’d left school twenty years ago, and to then suddenly be back at school as if nothing had happened was obviously odd and unexpected. It really wasn’t true that I didn’t like Nigel; quite the opposite, I felt we could have got on, that under the surface we did get on, but there were so many people in my school like that, affected by this phenomenon, we were too cool, clever, serious, dismissive, too know-it-all, we thought we had everything down pat and so we never engaged with the new and there was this ever so slight sneery quality about us, that if we’d have engaged we might have given something away, we might have confessed that we weren’t always so sure, we’d have opened ourselves up to rejection and so the best way to continue was to carry on spurning.
Which made it all the more surprising when Thornton just came right up to me, produced something from his bag, told me he could fix it, and then he set to work on the bike as if he was a bike mechanic. And of course I was embarrassed, I was ashamed, didn’t know what to do with myself, wanted to thank him but found it difficult to, I probably also wanted to push him away, and for him it was like nothing, it was just obvious that the thing to do was to help me, and I felt like I didn’t deserve this at all, not to mention al the ickiness associated with the realisation that he must have known what I thought about him and I knew he knew and that this blew all of that out of the water, but it kept coming up at the back of my mind, the image I had of Thornton as slightly unpleasant and unapproachable, someone I was very clear about not really wanting to be friends with.
And I remember racking my brain to try and remember if I had got Thornton all wrong, if I had misremembered our relationship, if I had somehow forgotten we were friends and had invented this frostiness from nowhere, and then that meant that all these other guys that I thought were part of the cold-shoulder brigade were actually my friends too, they’d have done the same for me, mended my tire, and was I just this complete arsehole that held on to grudges and pettiness, was it all in my head, and if the tire was on the other bike, would I have done the same thing as Thornton?