Diary of a bike

brompton_bikeI got ridden to Laurentiu’s house in the dark on a road through the centre of Bucharest, a road that is usually crowded but at that moment was deserted because it was the middle of the night; Laurentiu appeared in his pajamas and handed over a disk, a memory stick, said farewell and we were off — but only for a bit as time was pressing and I got folded up and put in the back of a taxi as my Master feared we wouldn’t make it on time, and his fears were probably justified as it is rather a long way to the airport.

I could hear the taxi driver complaining about how expensive spare parts are for Dacia Logans, “more expensive than the most expensive German cars” he said, and he believes Japanese cars are the best and my Master concurred.  At the airport I was handed to a man in a tie who put me on a revolving machine and then wrapped me in thin polythene until I was hermetically sealed and almost unrecognisable — but then an unseemly argument ensued at the Lufthansa desk about their demand for a 70 Euro fee for putting me on the plane; we went to the cash office where negotiations resumed and the price fell to 35 Euro due to my diminutive stature.

Then I lost contact with my beloved Master for a long and traumatic period, indeed I lost track of time completely as I was shunted from conveyor belt to truck to the greasy hands of an swarthy baggage handler who hurled me into the hull of a plane, shut the door and left me in a black, noisy, unheated hell with hundreds of snooty and superior cases, none of whom would deign to converse with me, as they couldn’t work out what I was; and then we arrived in Munich and I thought my ordeal was over but no — the whole process was repeated and I got hauled across the airport and tossed into the belly of another aircraft.

And here we are in Brussels, thankfully back under the benign gaze of my Master who writes up today’s experiences on his laptop as an elderly and decrepit train takes us to Brussels Central Station.  I don’t know what’s going to happen next as I believe we are going to London tonight.  I just hope we aren’t flying.

The adventure continued just after the above account was written.  We arrived at Bruxelles Central Station, not to confused with Gare du Midi, and found that it was raining.  We got geared up for the wet and my special jacket was put onto my leather seat.  Master stopped by a flower shop (not to buy flowers for the ladies we were about to visit), he took out a little penknife from my front bag (how he got that through customs I will never know; indeed we saw signs today saying you can go to jail for carrying a knife through customs); made a few neat slashes and soon my plastic covering was off and I could breathe again, but as he put me back into shape (I do so love my stretching exercises) my chain came off, and it has to be mentioned that as much as I love my Master, he is rather negligent when it comes to maintenance and he was told that my chain was old and should be changed.  But he couldn’t find one and then forgot about it, this task being added to a long list of other priorities.

However, on this bright morning in Brussels my chain came off and not desirous of getting himself filthy (you see my chain is blacker than the ace of spades as it hasn’t been washed in years, in fact I don’t think it was ever washed) he looked around for a cloth or a stick with which he could fix it without getting his fingers blackened.  It was then that we noticed there was a bike shop right next to the station and Master went in with the question “Can I borrow a screwdriver?”  An enthusiastic young Arab fellow called Karim came out and fixed it himself, for no charge, but then had to go and wash his fouled fingers.  So impressed was Master at this quick and enthusiastic service, quite the opposite of what he’s used to in Bucharest, that he felt he should return the gesture by getting something from the shop, so a new front light was bought, a discussion on maintenance was entered into and we went on a wild goose chase across town (getting lost almost at once) in search of the Brompton shop that would, we were told, sell us a new chain.  Alas, the Brompton shop was closed and I was so disappointed as it is so rare that one gets the chance to meet the relatives, but the Master didn’t seem too flustered by the mishap or the shame of getting lost.

We had to reach the offices of Generation Europe in order to pick up the tickets for the next leg of the journey, and they are located in a thin but rather grand terraced house on Chausee St Pierre 123, very near to Rondpont Schuman which, as every civilised European should know, is the location of the European Commission and the European Parliament.  Master was warned that Schuman was blocked by angry farmers but I suspect this attracted him to take this route (he has this inexplicable tendency to head for trouble and misery, experiences that seem to cheer him up) but even I was surprised that the boneheaded police had sealed off the area with barbed wire after allowing in hundreds of huge tractors and agricultural machinery to block all traffic in the area — far bigger and more impressive than any tractor I’d seen in Romania or eastern Europe.

I remember reading an article in the Economist about crowds and how stupid it is to fence them in when there is a protest, as you don’t let them go home and it makes them more angry and dangerous.  They were blasting horns and it sounded more like ships foghorns than spoilt farmers complaining about their loss of a milk subsidy.  I was also reminded of the action that is taking place in 100 Years of Solitude, where people are killed without much warning or justice, and it seems like the main characters of the Buendia family, the mainstay of the story, are being systematically killed off. Fortunately they are able to produce enough offspring to sustain the story (and the family) and some characters seem to never die — such as Colonel Aureliano Buendia who was reported dead scores of times but who always re-appears at the head of a new rebel army.

Now we’re in Gare du Midi, not to be confused with Central Station, waiting for the 1759 train to London, a train which only takes 2 hours which really is fast considering how slow the British trains are.  We’re killing time.  I was sorry to see that Master did get his fingers dirty as my chain came off again, just as we were approaching the Eurostar information desk, an embarrassing lapse I have to admit, and he had to soil his fingers in order to fix it.  Unfortunately he doesn’t have access to soap or detergent or wet wipes (it would be unthinkable to leave me amidst this Euro trash while he went into the washroom alone) so he wiped his fingers first on the floor, leaving a dirty black trail, then on a poster, then on a wet tissue he found, then on his sticky luggage labels and finally on a the teabag he ordered (with the hot water and cup of course) in the rather low class eatery called Mezzo di Pasta — which is where this last installment was penned.

The train to London does travel at a fantastic speed, it has to be admitted, and I have been placed on a prominent shelf where I can get a good view of the rabble coming onto the train as well as the scenery which is zooming past at incredible speed.  Master is falling asleep.

We get to London and I had the exquisite pleasure of being ridden through St Pancras, which has to be the most glamourous and charming station in London. It is a Victorian masterpiece that appears in the Harry Potter films and it has been brilliantly renovated and is full of modern shops and people, but Master got frustrated walking around looking for a bank machine so he hopped on and we covered the vast councourse in half the time.  And then something funny happened, the chain came off again and he finally noticed that an important part of me was loose and was ready to drop off; fortunately he noticed and went to the Left Luggage shop and managed to borrow a screwdriver and fix it.  A curious thing I noticed recently was that in the airport in Bucharest there is an office which English name is “Lost and Found”, but its Romanian title is “Bagaje pierdute” — i.e. lost luggage with no hope of its re-discovery.

Then we got onto London’s famous underground, which was rather packed with a pretty multicultural crowd, everyone reading books or the Evening Standard or listening to MP3 players or playing on iPhones.
What really caught my attention was an upper class couple and the way they related to each other.  How do I know they were upper class? They had all the signs: He was wearing a Barbour jacket which is an unmistakable sign of quality and his bag was made of canvas and leather, items that don’t look ostentateous to the ordinary man on the street but to someone such as myself the signs are unmistakable.  They had a curious air of superiority but also anonimity; they blended in rather well.  It wasn’t their clothes that was of interest, however, it was their behaviour. She was being rather animated and affectionate towards him but he ignored her and hardly looked at her, while she tried to take this in a good spirit.  I assume they’re married and will be divorced soon. He can’t stand her.  It made me rather sad.

7 Responses to Diary of a bike

  1. When are we getting the next instalment?! I cant wait! As for the chain, tell him to spend a little time and money on you, you deserve it. I dont know, he doesnt even carry his own screwdriver! I have a brilliant door to door service here in Brighton, they would collect you and bring you back home. And you would have the company of new friends and possibly relatives for a few hours!
    Love Tessa (Mistress of the scruffy old silver bike you met in Hove)

  2. alex d-f says:

    when you show up with a bike can’t they treat it like any other luggage? do they always take 35 Euro off you? (I’m coming to Buc. & wondering if I shd. get a bag for my Bike)

  3. Matei Tudor says:

    @alex d-f – I think bikes go under the “sporting equipment” rules. And it depends on the airline. I think, from what i read on wizzair.com, that they charge you on special luggage and on a kilo basis. But I think it’s worth it, since we are already doing so much eco-damage with non-efficient airplanes.

  4. alex d-f says:

    Thanks for the reply, Matei. I am going with Blue Air, I will contact them & see what they say. (Someone said don’t buy a specialised bag, just a beat up old suitcase & a couple of sheets of foam, & you can check it as regular luggage. Trouble is, then you have to carry it with you on your onward journey)

  5. fee/gabriella bullock says:

    how clever of you to be able to fold like that. we had an awful time when our masters were not allowed to take us on their train and we had to be sent alone from Tours to Paris, trusting only to the station master that he would load us on to a goods train. luckily he was as good as his word.

    hope to meet you when you join us (maybe quite soon, by the sound of things) on the Piste in the Sky

  6. Annie Griffiths says:

    Hi Rupert,

    Hope you are well – just trawling the internet thinking of a trip to Romania again and googled you – brought back the fantastic cycling adventures we’ve had – camping in Roman fora, bivvying high up in the mountains being woken by bells and coming across charcoal burners deep in a forest. Hoping to come over later this hear – probably minus bike – but do get in touch. Also we with you regarding the oil and lost opportunities,

    Cheers Annie

  7. Steven says:

    Great story! I’ll read it to our Bromptons. I am sure they’ll find it inspiring and would love to meet you one day on the streets of Bucharest.

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