NICOLA MILLER: The bike’s a symbol of the old me

Nicola Miller
Nicola Miller
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The years of devil toddlerhood can make even Donald Trump look reasonable, liberal and amenable by comparison and we’ve seen them through. We’ve emerged from the wind tunnel of parenting adolescents which left our hairdos and psyche slightly skewiff but nothing to worry about. Most of the kids have left home, the parental DEFCON system has started to accrue some cobwebs... then my son bought a motorbike and my thoughts have become ...complicated.

I haven’t really worried about empty nest syndrome nor had concerns about 
growing old. The alternative to the latter, an early death, doesn’t really appeal and it 
also seems a bit selfish to be vain about ageing when so many people are denied that option.

Watching our kids move on, up, and out, has always been a huge and often vicarious source of joy; as parents letting them go is what we are supposed to do. I thought I had escaped the pain of both my own exile from childhood and the dissolution of youth that ageing brings and believed myself to have arrived at a place where I could enjoy the antics of younger people whilst thanking the great sky gods that I survived my teenage years (whilst feeling relieved I am no longer one).

When the bike roared up the road with my son on it, clad in exactly the *right* kind of safety gear, my mind was flooded with memories of my own very irresponsible bike related antics:

1. I accidentally pootled down a French autoroute on an unrestricted mobylette aged 13 in only a bikini and cheap purple tinted sunglasses which obscured the warning signs of the impending motorway. I was escorted home by a pair of laughing gendarmes and promptly drove the thing into a 
Breton salt marsh the next day.

2. I freewheeled lidless down Ballingdon Hill at dawn on a Kawasaki 750 limited. I ‘kept company’ from time to time with a group of bikers called the Coggleshall Bastards, ‘famous’ for the fact that most of them didn’t own bikes. I was considered nails because I hurled myself into a ditch of stinging nettles off pillion after we had to put the bike down.

3. Riding through Thetford Forest without lights (which had broke) on another mobylette at 2 a.m doing less than 2mph from sheer terror, I was nearly rear ended by a large badger who was going faster than me. I slept in a ditch of pine needles, convinced I was about to meet my death at the hands of a wild human or animal. The fact that riding the darn bike without lights had a higher risk of death hadn’t occurred to me, at 17.

4. I might have only taken 
a very few hours to get to Liverpool on the back of a LaVerda driven by a friend of a friend who I had met at the Rougham Tree Fair. He said he was taking me back to Sudbury and was not amenable to reason.

Reading these, you can probably see why my ability to deliver bike safety lectures to the kids sans the cries of ‘hypocrite’ is somewhat limited. We’re definitely existing in the realms of ‘don’t do as I did’ here.

Alongside my understandable fears for his safety at the hands of other drivers and our badly surfaced country 
roads, a wistfulness for those heady days of my own youth has crept in and I don’t like how it makes me feel.

Since that bike appeared, my thoughts have been trapped in a liminal zone; a place where I move between envy, trepidation about his safety, pride at his steadiness (for he is a sensible chap) and my own sense of diminishing youth. The tensions between the old me, young me and me-now chafes a bit and the bike outside reminds me of this. That bike has become a 
symbol of how I once was 
(stupidity included) and a reminder that time moves swiftly on, shifting children and our youth away from us in a shimmery heat cloud of road dust, exhaust fumes and the tick of the clock.