I’m An Old Dog, But I’ve Got Some New Tricks

If I can learn to fix two busted tyres in one morning, I’m not too old to fix my life

A bike wheel and inner tube

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 

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