I’ve noticed a slight lack of joy in my adult life. Everything feels a bit serious.
The responsibility and pressure of growing up - all this nonsense about having to earn a living - has put a lid on my childlike frivolity.
Sure, I have fun from time to time. I’m capable of laughter and am still prone to the occasional outburst of spontaneous dancing. But I yearn for that senseless, inexplicable joy that can take hold of a child and have them giggling and running in circles for hours. Or at least until the sugar-high wears off.
Thankfully, I’ve come across a superb tool for inducing moments of pure, uninhibited ecstasy.
No, not that. Filth.
I’m referring to the humble bicycle. Here’s why.
Undertaking traffic is a truly satisfying experience for cyclists. Those queues of honking cars merely summon our fearless and mischievous selves of yesteryear.
It’s a race to the front.
You start by squeezing past a few of cars on the inside, attracting the glares of their occupants. The gap then becomes too narrow so you meander to middle, between the two lanes of traffic, and brush four, five, six more vehicles aside. You’re past the giant Tesco lorry now. The front of the queue is in sight.
You work your way towards pole position, ducking and diving around the helpless obstacles. Their eyes burn into the back of your head. You can feel their impatience.
There’s also an air of humiliation. The might of the internal combustion engine beaten by calories and some pedals.
You slow your pace when approaching the final row of cars, almost to a stop, anticipating that sudden change from red to orange to green.
The chequered flag drops. The crowd roars. GREEN!
You immediately put power through your legs and burst past the front row of cars. Clutch, gear, handbrake, biting point… by this time you’re flying, surging ahead of the traffic into clean, crisp air, a grin across your face and that unmistakable feeling of joy. You did it! You beat them!
Three seconds later they come rushing past and squeeze you back against the curb. But it doesn’t matter. You won, for those glorious three seconds. You know it, they know it. Chalk up another victory for the bicycle and our childlike glee.
It’s taken me a while to build up such levels of confidence. I wasn’t always dancing through traffic.
My cycling career began with stabilisers and eventually progressed to riding in circles on the garden lawn. Mossy grass makes for a good safety mat. I was henceforth reluctant to leave this cushioned environment.
As a result, my parents never had to endure me shouting, “Look mum! No hands!” The concept of riding a bicycle without clinging to the handlebars for dear life was preposterous to me.
Now I’m old and any trace of youthful invincibility is being washed away. Attempting to ride a bike with no hands still seems foolish. Simply not worth the risk.
But against my better judgement, Cheeky Mango has unearthed a penchant for senseless fun.
I find myself coasting along on my bicycle and the thought crosses my mind - this surface seems smooth, no obvious blemishes or oncoming obstacles, you could take your hands off...
The mere thought!
Very, very slowly I loosen my grip and let my hands hover above the handlebars, millimeters from those trusty brake levers. I am now technically riding with no hands. It may not appear that way to onlookers but I feel the thrill in my tummy all the same.
One day, I’ll build up the nerve to take my hands away completely. Maybe even to let my arms hang lazily by my sides. And finally, the pièce de résistance, I’ll put my hands in my pockets as I pedal along. I could even keep one hand available to read a book and doff my fedora at passers-by.
What a hooligan I’ve become.
When I’m not being swept away in moments of recklessness, I opt for more low-key activities on my bicycle. I enjoy whistling, for example.
I don’t think there’s a more jolly or comforting sight than someone pedalling along and whistling a gay tune, perhaps accompanied by the occasional brrring-brrring! of their bell.
The bicycle itself conjures thoughts of childhood and freedom. Whistling is the soundtrack of contentment. Even the bell is a symbol of ‘small is beautiful’ - a friendly ding versus the oppressive honk of a car horn.
I’ve taken to cycling around town and having a good ol’ whistle as I go. I like to believe it brightens the day of passing pedestrians and is a tiny symbol of defiance against the angry traffic.
It also opens up the possibility of bursting into full song. I was recently inspired by another cyclist who was singing at the top of her lungs on a quiet road. Clearly she was immune to any embarrassment. The bicycle had restored her childlike nonchalance.
I wouldn’t dream of belting out a full rendition of La La Land as I walked down the street, but on a bicycle it seems acceptable. You’re at once immersed in your environment and removed enough to serenade it. If only I could sing in tune.
Acting like a wolly on my bike reminds me of what can be lost in the transition from child to adult. That unassuming curiosity. Not caring what people or society think of you. The capacity to find joy in the mundane and absurd.
Shadows of these remain in my consciousness, not quite extinguished by the weight of responsibility and expectation. And I don’t want to lose them completely. It shouldn’t be a downhill ride from six to six feet under.
Luckily my bicycle, although not the only solution, is helping to restore some of the joy and freedom I left behind.
Speaking of downhill, I seldom coast down one on my bicycle without feeling some hint of glee or excitement. Why not let gravity do all the hard work and just enjoy yourself, eh?