“Just get on your bike.” It came from nowhere, but was also totally simplified and proven logic, to me at least.
After months of soul searching and trying to rationalise and deal with an ever-deepening life issue, while sat there analysing things, going over the same old figures, looking for the reasoning, some justifications… and then suddenly, while staring deeply at my bike and in true Lawrence of Arabia style, I said out aloud: “Just get on your bike.”
Was it divine intervention? Not really, as in the split second of realisation that followed, I was transported right back to 1981 and that infamous (and often misquoted) Norman Tebbit speech: “I grew up in the ‘30s with an unemployed father. He didn’t riot. He got on his bike and looked for work, and he kept looking until he found it”, said the then-Conservative Secretary of State for Employment, who – ironically according to some – came from a working-class background.
At that time, Britain was hitting the heights of Thatcherism and was in turmoil. Riots, strikes, an impending war and some of the worst unemployment issues in decades, especially youth unemployment, plagued the land.
If, like me, you happened to leave school that same year, in a time where further education was beyond the means of many, where apprentices were all but extinct, and where Youth Opportunity Schemes were your prime hope, whilst working for a staggering £23.50 a week… well, you’ve probably formed opinions that will live with you forever. But hey, on the plus side it did give us Ghost Town by The Specials, a song that defined the era.
Although Tebbit, now 92, didn’t directly tell the unemployed to physically get on their bikes and look for work, there was little doubting the inference. Ever since, he’s had ‘Onyerbike’ chanted at him wherever he goes, and as a young cyclist of the era it was something often hurled from roadsides as you passed by, along with the occasional “get off and milk it.”
Although some probably did acknowledge the speech somewhat, sadly for Tebbit it didn’t lead to mass pelotons of middle-aged men on Raleigh Wayfarers to roam the roads chanting “Giz a job” in the style of Yosser Hughes off of Boys from the Blackstuff.
Tangents of thought maybe, but that’s where it led me: to that two-tone era of hopelessness, and the recurring realisation that things in life do tend to go and come around again in cycles, so to speak, as in history repeating itself. For us oldies, the current Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride’s recent words on the ‘opportunities’ to work in the gig economy for the likes of Deliveroo certainly brought back memories of Tebbit’s speech delivered 42 years earlier.
Back in the early ‘80s all I wanted to do was be a bike rider, but the situation and my surroundings didn’t permit such a thing. Or at least not chasing it, but on that score things have thankfully moved on for me.
Even so, I never gave up hope, and totally against the odds, and with much defiance and turmoil, I have somehow managed to make cycling my way life. Pretty, much as I promised myself as a scraggy 12-year-old.
In all honesty, this has nothing to with Tebbit or his speech, or at least I don’t think it has. I mean, I hardly took it in the manner he meant it. But in some way or another, those words (and how people interpreted them) often come back to haunt me. I know that, at least for me, “just get on your bike” has been a constant personal mantra I’ve lived by ever since, even if I rarely say it aloud.
Over the years, like many, I’ve been through more than my share of rough times, and it has almost always been the bike that has saved me. That has led to a certain level of trust between us, and I know I’m not the only one with this relationship.
This time last year, after once again being rescued and transformed back to fighting shape by simply getting on my bike, the world looked a whole lot more appealing again, and I was finally looking to take on the adventures with my bike that I’d promised myself for the last 16 years. Then, bang… my knee, then hip went up in a rage of fiery pain, and the next 8-9 months that followed it was hell, with no resolution in sight. The bike became a thing to be feared, as every time I tried to ride it again, I’d be left in severe pain for a week, and we’re only now starting to reconcile that relationship.
Life has changed in the past few years for many of us, and especially so in the past year for me personally. Once again, the eternal circle of life has led me to seek help and resolution in the bike. Can we do it? Can we once again find a way to make things work better together, and to turn life around, just one more time?
I know the answer should be yes, but as ever there are many hurdles to jump through. Somewhat ironically, the plan has a very distant tinge of Tebbit and his infamous speech about it (damn). Wouldn’t it be funny to see Norman and Mel on a tandem, delivering deep pan pizzas to the House of Lords on a wet winter’s night, just so they could pay their heating bills?