About two years ago my phone rang at midnight. It was my mate Jon. “Al, I’m standing outside my flat in Bethnal Green. There’s a Claude Butler bike frame in a skip. You need a bike. Shall we build one?”
I did need a bike. At the time cashflow was not great. Public transport in London is massively overpriced. Bicycles are the best solution, particularly at this time of year. We went to a bike workshop in East London and got covered in grease. The frame was bent a little too much for it to be legally sold, but it was perfectly serviceable. Lots of cleaning, lots of grease, a bit of eBay. Jon put in loads of work, it became a project, and eventually Ahmed was born. I have no idea why that’s his name, but it always felt right. Cards on the table, I didn’t have much input on the build. Jon took the ball and ran with it. Ahmed was blue, light, scrappy, single speed, only one brake (the front), with handles off a Piaggio Scooter and a ripped seat. You could get some pace on him. He went, and nobody stole him for two years. Mostly he was for cruising down bike lanes keeping an eye out for homicidal lorries and ready at all times to jump onto the pavement. I loved Ahmed, and he made things possible for me. I never had to worry if I could afford to get to the meeting. I just had to budget the time and put up with the weather.
But Ahmed was never quite right. He had some ongoing issues with the front forks. I am now accustomed to my whole bike juddering and going “ka-chunk” whenever I put on the brake, even if I know it’s not ideal. Last week Anne-May asked if she could borrow him. “The transport in this city is so expensive. Can I use your bike?” I couldn’t let her ride him. I know that eventually the whole of the front column will snap when I brake. I’m happy to take that risk. I’m not happy to pass it on to a friend.
Last week Jon rang me up again. “I’ve found a safer bike. It’s orange. The forks are better, but Ahmed has better driving bits. Maybe we can take two bikes and turn them into one working bike.” So this morning we had a tinker and got covered in grease again. But it’s too big a job so we sucked it up, washed our hands, got them covered in grease again, sucked it up again and took them both to a bike workshop with experts in it who you pay. “Can you make one bike that’s great out of these two semi-bikes?” Apparently they can.
So Ahmed is undergoing a transformation. I’m not entirely sure if he’ll still be Ahmed when they’ve done with him. He’ll be orange, and shinier. It’ll be lovely to ride a bicycle that I’m not legitimately scared is about to fall apart beneath me. And a rear brake will be a treat even if I’m used to not having one.
I’m writing this blog downstairs in Jon’s flat. This is my Saturday, after working all weekend. He and his one year old boy are flat out on the bed upstairs after all this manning. Ethan had been helping out by holding the wrench. Ridiculously cute.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) I’m going to an auction. I’ve never been to one before. But there’s a signed photograph of Churchill that used to belong to my father. It’s going under the hammer at Bonham’s. I’ve never been to an auction and I want to see how it all goes down.
If any of you are big Churchill fans and secret lottery winners, here’s the link: