So, the whim takes me with a well-stuffed stomach (and the guilt of being the glutton who stuffed it) out into a moonless night. A warm moonless night in October. It could well have been a summer evening had the skies not been so darkened by hefty clouds and a long ago set sun. Stay a while up there to consider the scene and the climate. Then come back to the pavement, down a kerb and witness the bump of light machinery that’s at one now with the road.
I’m on a black bike in black garb on unlit streets. The invisibility, my stealthiness, would be enjoyed but for a sense of self-preservation that sees that black outfit piped with straw thin reflective stripes. The bike too, bears nocturnal livery; its spokes shrouded in reflective sheaths; handlebars and seat stem affixed with lights a-flashing. Oh, and tyre rims painted—each with a fine, single striation of paint, that glares in the presence of any beam shone upon it.
Destination—unknown. Driven by pedalling legs and random choices. The first of the latter is the decision to ride past my previous home, a mile as the crow flies, a mile and a bit as the bicycle shallowly snakes. The tracks of bike tyres I’ve observed, never run true. Like some pissed road painter created an artwork in mono of the world’s longest, slimmest snakes-a-shagging. This observation made in daylight (on other rides) when puddles play the part of the paint tin…I’m off track………I’m now back. My former house: new gutters, a light blazing from most rooms, the windows open to attest the night’s warmth, or to vent the tenants’ cannabis smoke—I don’t know. I pass, pang a moment for the past, then dogleg into the council estate that’s forever backed my old abode.
More houses, more unblinkered lights, more weed smokers, I presume. And there’s my Aunt’s old house as well, terraced, with a ginnel—block-paved drive full with a motorhome that’s backed up tight to the wall and to within an inch the property’s border. The place still holds the aura of childhood memories; I acknowledge but dismiss them.
A random choice from there puts flesh on the notion of destination. I’ll head for the canal I decide, and see what’s presented thereafter. A tow path, dark and overgrown, has invited, nay dared me to run its course. Not one to shy from such a self-set challenge, I ride on, and scoop up an imagined gauntlet as I do.
Two bridges’ undersides I pass—underpasses pitch black—the faith that there is indeed a path to pedal on is truly blind. A masochistic excitement experienced as a notion of being swallowed whole by a hole in the world plays to my own smaller world’s penchant for risk. The tyres smooth out what measure of hesitance there was, and as I emerge, relief replaces the excitement.
The scenery soon returns to dim, oh so dim an overgrown route I ride. A mite more confidence here, as the features that line the way seem to mark it with their silhouettes. The battery light, strobing at the fore, casts too indiscernible a glow though to be fully effective. My knuckles are brushed by gangly nettles that lean, unseen, into the path. They pat and impart their venom on to this…victim.
The destination’s more fleshed now, in fact, fully fleshed, I’m going to Media City. The tow path is running out of range, and this canal-side stretch I’ve run will soon be in the past. A bridge; this time to travel over, marks its end. The bike is so poorly geared I have to dismount. Light machinery and a weak rider, hmmpf, I don’t have the power to crest the ramp. I grumble to myself as I amble up, then stand a moment amongst the cast iron triangles whose rivets, proud and over-engineered, suspend the equally sturdy walkway. A memory visits, an unpleasant one—I’d like to cast it to the canal below…So I do; my mind’s eye sees it splash, its negativity borne on the ripples is stretched and dissipated. I remount and ride on—spiritually bad shades inhabit this place I sense.
I remind myself Media City’s the aim, and it’s to be gotten to by way of a large industrial estate. Fat roads feed all the units here and ease the wheels of industry by day. But these roads are mine tonight; Sunday evenings pass no vehicles at all over them, the traffic lights I openly flout control nothing. Or so I believe. I slip through reds assuming no-one is watching; not even the dead cat I’m loathed to notice. Ginger fur exaggerated by the sodium streetlights, an awkward bundle of orange on the tarmac; freshly killed, its spine contorted in a curve that points its over-glazed eyes my way. Was it straying in the road with the same assumption? That the world was its own? That it was safe in its soft shell of ignorance? Was the driver of whatever killed it speeding through, loaded with the same assumptions?
Fodder for the mind of the mortal methinks.
Two roundabouts later, all highway regulations adhered to, I pull the front wheel across the car park of the Imperial War Museum. Myself and the back wheel, we follow on, threading through an open gate wide enough for ourselves and no more. Another bridge now presents itself. Bigger, grander, floodlit with colour, and the star of its own show. It straddles the quays that hold this journey’s purpose. And the buildings that sprout from beyond, all metal and glass, make for a hive that’s very alive. News-feeds I imagine zipping into them on cables, and pulsing down from satellites—all to be organised by news teams, then redistributed to the world. A twenty four hour operation with little lull at night time.
The bridge again, primarily a walkway. For its bollards, the biggest vehicle allowed to trace its span is a bicycle I’m sure. So I pedal across, no stress in negotiating its slope this time, the gradient is gentle and my gears go unmolested. One moment of contrast when I roll across a large steel plate that loosely takes up the slack between bridge and land. The night’s quiet is broken as its clunk tolls my arrival. Echoes ricochet then fade. I ride the noiseless night once more; the hustle upstairs in the buildings muted by sheet glass.
Block paving, likely a million flush cobbles run below me en route to my favourite bench. Restaurants passed, their patrons—jet set media types—bring life to the air as they unwind outdoors on chrome chairs, at chrome tables, consuming meals in this weirdly warm autumn air. I pass them, a tram stop, and a modern theatre too to find my spot. Parking the bike, I flick off the lights and sit overlooking the waterfront.
A flock of seagulls waft overhead, a couple of hundred feet in the air I’d guess and forty feet of theirs I’d guess. Yes, twenty or so of them on a journey to somewhere; plumage bright on their underbellies from the electric lights below. That somewhere is the direction from whence I came.
My stomach’s not so stuffed now, I’ll take this constitutional, then follow them home.