There was this one time years ago when I saw a bicycle that was made completely of wood. The pedals, chain, handle bars and everything. Even this wooden bicycle bell which sort of rattled when I used it.
I was outside my friend’s house, who wasn’t my best friend, although he lived across the street. There was an alleyway and if you walked up about halfway you’d find a house on your right whose garden was overgrown with weeds and the gate was all rotten, with a distinctive smell I can still remember now. A nice fragrance that came from all the plants I suppose. The whole alley smelt like this and it all, the scent, definitely adds to my memory of the bicycle.
I was in the garden outside his front door one day, calling on him to see if he wanted to go out to play.
It was before I’d even rung the bell that I was looking all over this strange creation. The same size as a normal bike; at least as any normal bike was to me at the time – now I have no idea. Brown, wooden, not shiny or anything…
My friend came to the door and I asked about it as soon as he answered and he said it was his brother’s. I knew at once he meant the brother who’d died but being a child I didn’t feel any need to move away from the subject so I carried on talking and asking if it was ok to ride, if he’d ever ridden it and how come I hadn’t seen it before. In spite of my enthusiasm though, he simply replied that his dad was using it for something without answering any of my questions. I still don’t know if anyone ever rode the thing.
I’d been in my friend’s house sitting in his front room when he’d first told me about his brother. Can’t remember exactly what we were doing in there ‘cause he was much more of a playing outside on the street or in the woods kind of friend so it was unusual in a way for me to be in his front room on this or any occasion. There was this picture of a guy standing next to a motorbike looking like some kind of hero or film star and it might’ve even been black and white. When I’d asked my friend who it was in the picture he’d said that it was his older brother and that he’d died in a motorbike accident.
So anyway, my friend called back to his mum that it was me at the door and he was going out and then we were sort of back in the alleyway walking to the end into the park with the swings and slide and we hung around there for a while before going to call on another of our friends called Wayne Stevens who had a younger brother we also played with from time to time. We went round their house for a bit and played with toy cars in their front room; their mum made us a sandwich each. After that I remember us, the four of us were playing cricket in their driveway.
It was a nice day actually. And I never saw the bicycle again until about three or four years later when my friend was having a kind of garden sale which would’ve been a garage sale if they’d had a garage but they didn’t. They were moving to another place up the other side of London and getting rid of some of the crap they didn’t need. I’d forgotten all about the bicycle but there it was lying under their apple tree next to an old rocking horse and as soon as it caught my eye the memory of seeing it a few years before came flooding back to me. Suddenly I could feel myself standing there knocking at my friend’s door and playing in the park, woods or round each other’s houses, playing with Star Wars toys and Transformers, watching cartoons and all those things we used to do.
Things were different then of course. Like, I was still mates with almost all of the same people (in fact I think his garden sale was the beginning of my first experience saying goodbye to any of my friends) but the stuff we did was… well I must’ve been about twelve or thirteen by then.
I think at that time a typical social experience so to speak would have been football after school, computer games at youth club, with the odd night of cigarettes and cider on the way home.
Before even announcing my presence to my friend or his family I’d already picked up the bicycle from the grass and was looking at it remembering stuff about my friend’s brother, how he’d died and everything in a road accident.
The bike was still in a fairly new sort of condition. A polished wooden seat, wooden spokes, and instead of tyres the rims of the wheels were thick with a darker coloured wood.
A bicycle once belonging to a boy, who somewhere had long ago rotted in his grave, was still here in the house where he’d lived. Like, here it still was, surrounded by neighbours slowly drifting around the garden, hunting through boxes of household items, possessions spread across the grass.
And the way the bike was now patiently sitting there propped up on its wooden stand, avoiding, not partaking in all the commotion surrounding it, it seemed sort of beautiful; but lonely too in a funny sort of way. And I remember it seemed weird, a little wrong how they were selling the thing. In some ways it was like someone’s heart or his soul which was being forgotten, neglected and discarded.
To be honest the whole thing made me feel a bit sick.