If I can learn to fix two busted tyres in one morning, I’m not too old to fix my life
I’VE BEEN FEELING LOW over the last week or two.
In my sessions with the psychologist, I’ve spent a lot of time crying, going on (Boo hoo!) about how washed up and useless I am and how I don’t contribute anything.
Although – if I can manage to look at my situation objectively – things are actually slightly better than they were this time last year, I still spend a lot of my time beating myself up.
Despite making better decisions these days, and making some progress towards the things I want to do, I find that I’m still derailed very easily by any setback, no matter how small.
Yesterday, I had technical problems with launching this blog and, after a brief period of angry struggle, gave up trying to fix them.
I knocked off work early and stewed, decided that I needed a couple of beers to cheer myself up and – inevitably, since this is me we’re talking about – woke up this morning feeling there was no point in doing anything whatsoever.
Fortunately, I had set my morning Guilt Trip Alarm – a promise to make my daughter a sandwich for work before 7.30 – and this always gets me out of bed. I don’t want to feel bad about letting her down, on top of everything else.
Once I was up, the sandwich was made, and I was two cups of tea into the morning, I came out of myself a bit.
I began to notice things, such as the fact that there was a proper summer’s day out there, for once, and resolved to make something of it.
“Make sure you do lots of self-soothing activities this week”, the psychologist had said.
So, charged with solar energy, I decided that nothing could be more self-soothing than a swift 40km on my new road bike, around the leafier outskirts of London.
First, though, I had to fix the front wheel puncture that the bike suffered about a fortnight ago – but which, before Mr Blue Sky showed up, had seemed far too hard.
Actually, it only took 15 minutes, and a quick wash and brush-up later, I was sailing up the big hill outside my house, carving an aerodynamic little swathe through a stiffish, opposing South-Westerly.
But not long after that, I ran into another problem: the bike suddenly started rudely communicating every bump and hump in the road to me, directly through my arse.
I pulled over, squeezed my back wheel and found I had another puncture.
Worse, I had used up my inner tubes on the last repair – but there was a bike shop just a mile away and just enough air left in the tyre to make it there.
I bought four inners and a set of three CO2 cartridges and, 20 minutes later, was back on the road, feeling fucking pleased with myself.
Taking 20 minutes to change a back wheel isn’t exactly Tour De France standard mechanick-ery, but the back wheel is more difficult to change than the front, and it was an unfamiliar bike…
All of a sudden, I remembered a day about 10 years earlier, when I had spent a tearful and humiliating two hours wrestling with the same puncture on a street outside Croydon.
I’d just taken up cycling and hadn’t a clue about how to fix things.
For some reason, I took off all the gears in the cassette individually and then just couldn’t remember which way they went back on: Smallest to largest, or largest to smallest?
When I tried to fit the new inner tube, I couldn’t stop it from poking out from under the tyre in about a dozen places, like a set of grey rubber Emma Freuds.*
And, after 90 minutes of sheer hell, when I was just about broken but nearly there, I started inflating the tyres with my portable pump. This was about the size of a penny whistle and just about as powerful. Within minutes, both my arms had filled with Lactic Acid, but there was bugger all air in the tyre.
Ten years ago, a Double Puncture Day would have driven me to fling down the bike and stomp off home, eyes stinging with shame and frustration.
I would have given up cycling there and then, and chalked bike maintenance up on the long, long list of all the things I thought I just couldn’t do.
And it occurred to me that the ease with which I was now fixing punctures was proof – real proof – that I could get better at something. I could try again, with a slightly different plan, and make myself better. I could grow.
And if I could do that with a bike tyre, why couldn’t I do it with my blog? My relationships? My mental health? My life in general?
That little epiphany, gentle reader, was enough to send me sailing through the rest of the day.
I finished the ride and came home to write. In the afternoon, I went and did my shift at the charity shop, which suddenly didn’t seem as depressing as it had before. And in the evening, I resisted the booze.
All I had to do, I told myself, was keep trying. Stick to the plan, and you will find a way if things don’t come right at first.
That’s what I learned from Double Puncture Day.
*Rhyming slang: Emma Freuds = haemorrhoids