This one’s kind of complicated. Episode 194 since I started documenting the journey back in November 2013, it’s laced with stuff that defines who I am, how I am, why I am and I guess, ultimately, what I am.
Me? I’m a husband, a father, a computer programmer, a cyclist, a socialist and something of a free spirit.
And a son.
I’ve lived 300 miles away from my mother for over 40 years and visits have usually been a mixture of family occasions and dedicated trips one way or the other. The thing is right, you get used to the way it is, especially when you live so far away. You notice differences, perhaps more so than those who are always on hand, but you notice them all the same. Sadly, my mother has been in decline for a number of years now and has been in a nursing home for the past twelve months. As a matter of record, a nursing home is usually your last place of residence.
Two weeks ago, my mother had a fall and suffered a triple fracture of the femur. That would be a significant injury in any individual but in a frail old woman of 91, it’s life threatening. Much of last week was spent wondering whether I should be jumping in the car and rushing down the road to be at her bedside. But as she suffers from advanced dementia of exactly the form that’s been in the news in the lead up to the general election, having used her home to pay for her care, it wasn’t a straightforward decision. While there was no point in panicking, the signs have been unmistakeable since her operation. I was already scheduled to be down south this week in any case, with my work, so my fervent desire was to combine that trip with family time. And that’s how basically how it worked out.
But I was without my bike, as I usually am on these trips: more on that later.
While I was going through the procedural stuff with my brother should events take a turn for the worse, he handed me a letter that my mother wrote just over ten years ago. I hadn’t seen it before, and he explained that she wrote it one day at the Methodist Church during a session of reminiscence with her friends. The minister had encouraged the ladies to write a short story about their early formative years. This is my mother’s account, and it only serves to make me thankful and proud of everything she has provided for me, that has allowed be to become the person that I am today. But in many respects, this is a hard read: it’s powerful stuff.
“I was 13 years of age when war broke out in September 1939 and all the schools closed and children were evacuated. I was the eldest of three children and my mother didn’t want us to be evacuated so we stayed behind with our parents and schooling finished for me at that stage”.
Let those words sink in for a minute.
Losing your kids overnight to the relative safety of the country: except that my grandmother, my mother’s mother, a right old battle axe, was clearly having none of it. That decision defined much of what was to follow, and certainly my mother’s life. Incidentally, those were my mother’s words at 80 about an education that itself ended almost 80 years ago. Her command of the language even then was better than many kids of today.
“I was 14 in the December and started work in January 1940, and trained to be a sewing machinist. I started to make blouses out of my father’s old shirts, and skirts out of his trousers for my sister and myself, as fabric was scarce and clothes were rationed”.
The letter goes on…
“My father came home from work one day with a nylon parachute, which I unpicked carefully and made us special blouses and petticoats”. Not any old blouses notice: special blouses. Imagine your daughter doing that today.
“I was sent to the GEC where I assembled parts for ships and boats until the end of the war. We lived in Aston, just off Newtown Row at the start of the war, with lots of factories around us, and a lot of bombing took place. The night raids lasted ten to twelve hours so we never went to bed. In 1942, a bomb hit a factory near our house, which was badly damaged, so we moved to another house in Kingstanding”.
For the record, that house in Oundle Road was the one I remember visiting as a child whenever we went to my nan’s.
But then my mum goes on “the new house had a garden and a bathroom, which was real luxury for us. We had been used to having a bath in front of the fire in a tin bath that we kept in the yard”.
Therein lies a woman made of strong stuff. Therein lies a person who lived through events as a young person that shaped the rest of her life. Today, my mother lies in a hospital bed, very, very ill, and none of us knows, including the medical people, whether she’s going to pull through. But she’s a Taylor, and to the best of my knowledge, none of us have ever done stuff the easy way…
Which brings me to this week and these particular miles.
That run of thirty mile days, which had reached 46 out of 47 by the time I headed south on Tuesday, had set me up with a sniff of 31,000 miles this coming weekend. But it was not going to happen without an injection of miles down the road. So I blagged a bike, well two actually, off my sister in law. Both she and my brother got new Specialized bikes last year and they keep Auntie Carol’s old bike as a family spare. 19 years old with knobbly tyres, it’s as clunky as hell but yer know what: it’s still a bike. I used to run those country lanes around Congleton when I was an endurance runner thirty years ago so I know the routes pretty much like the back of my hand: distances, junctions, and even where the hills are. Groundhog stuff. The danger these days is that mad drivers use those same lanes as rat runs. But hey, miles are miles, and a combination of a Caley shirt and a high viz vest got me both noticed and back in one piece. I think AC was impressed with my commitment to the cause on Tuesday cos she let me take her new bike on Wednesday and Thursday. It weighs a ton by the way.
I know the miles weren’t much, 11, 5 and 12, but the symbolism is worth more, much more than the distance. Those were three days when I could have expected to bag a duck; but I didn’t. And now, penning this at a hundred miles an hour in the Lake District, I can look forward with knowing confidence that I only need to blag another 75 miles for 31K.
That’s gonna happen this weekend.
I guess it’s the same spirit that had my mother unpicking a parachute to make clothes at the age of 13. It’s the same Churchillian spirit that took her to work every day at 14 when she hadn’t been to bed the night before. Now I appreciate where my capacity for blagging LCFN (and before that Highland March) all-nighters comes from.
It continues to be hard and the schedule is unrelenting. The decision to only take days off when I’m away is slowly but surely increasing the percentage of days on the bike since August 2013. It’s now up to 62% (which would be much, much higher without a cumulative six months lost to injury), and each day, 851 of them and counting, averaging out at 36 miles. It’s a stat that inspires and scares the sh!t out of me in equal measure. Okay, so I was cycling twice a day until roughly this time last year, and that accounted for more miles, but I totally get what thirty miles does to your body and the mental stuff is every bit as hard, maybe even harder, than the physical.
Depending what happens, I might be back down the road again as early as next week: or it might be a month away. There’s not a lot of joy in travelling two hundred miles to watch your own kin gently sleeping: still fighting, but sleeping. Meaningful communication ceased a long time ago and now all that’s left is her spirit and her downright determination to keep going. So for now…
The show must go on.