I’ve got the mushrooms in the field…
-The Fall, Two Steps Back, Live from the Witch Trials
My head is dripping into my leather boots
- The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Living End, Psycho Candy
Ol’ man Winter is coming. The leaves are turning then falling, as is the sky…ever greyer, ever lower, ever meaner-looking. This is a good thing, generally, if you ask me. The changing of the seasons has been celebrated for millennia by the olde religions. And who am I to argue with the Wiccans? Samhain and the beginning of the dark winter months that it foretells are a particularly potent time of year. The last coat-tails of summer are languishing making each fine day seemingly all the more precious, psychedelic fungi (liberty-caps) carpet the moors and the time for harvest is upon us, stock them cupboards high and batten down the hatches ready for the cold, long haul of winter. Winter is also the time to go to ground, to get them projects ticking over as the Yule Solstice, and Candlemass pass on by and the wheel turns towards the promise of Spring and the re-birth of sorts beyond.
A replacement rear-wheel for the Bantam had been sourced, and after faffing about with various nuts, bolts, bearings and spacers for longer that I should have, eventually installed and re-aligned.
A crisp, cold late October morning presented the gift of a day off from work and sensing the weight of the seasons change bearing down upon me, I took off for the hills and peaks of Derbyshire, Tupperware pot safely stashed next to the tools and 2-stroke in the canvas saddlebag. I wanted to see if the fairies of the fields would be kind to me and if I’d actually got a serviceable bike once again.
The bike ran like a top, steadily climbing up and out of the city’s reaches, through the sticks, eventually crossing over into the rural wilderness of the Peak District beyond. I‘d donned every single item of clothing I own, including some very fetching long-johns, and still nearly froze to death as I clipped along; it even tried snowing up on the moors, whilst I was down on my hands & knees in a boggy field, searching out the spoils of the season.
After various false starts, quick stops, breakdowns and the usual trials and tribulations that owning an old bike can bring, it felt great, liberating even, to have seemingly worked through the mishaps, mainly by trial and error, and by hook and/or crook, ending up with something approaching a machine that will take me places without destroying itself entirely in the process.
Phone calls were made, plans were concocted, pure, unadulterated jive-talk was chatted, and the very next day I was again dressed up as some sort of rag-tag Michelin-man, skateboard and sleeping bag strapped behind the saddle, once more headed northwards through the peaks, though this time destined to pass right on through, aimed for Sheffield and a weekend’s get-getting down on the other side.
The day was sunnier and marginally warmer than the grey, snowy Friday before it, and it felt exactly like it should have felt to be blasting through the bright heights of rural Derbyshire, past the previous day’s generous fields full of small, green magick fellas, past the stately excesses of Chatsworth House, and then up and out of the Peak District, via a long, slow climb, which eventually spits you out at the top of the moors, where, upon rounding a long, shallow right-hander, you are greeted by the impressive sight of the post-industrial bulk of the city of Sheffield, sitting snuggled in and amongst the tall peaks that firmly keep the steel city nestled where it should be, amongst the lumps and bumps of the south Yorkshire landscape.
An equally long and slightly less languid downhill dropped me down into the relative madness of ring roads and city traffic, slipping in and out of the way of buses, lorries and terrible drivers in expensive 4x4’s, and battling some directional amnesia, I eventually pulled up outside my friend’s house, at the very top of a particularly tall and leafy Sheffield mound.
In no time at all, bikes had been unloaded, tea drunk, shit talked and soon we were bombing back down the hill, on skateboards this time, nearly getting mowed down by a pissed off, beeping guy in a Jaguar and whizzing straight past some cops, sat waiting at a red light that we only just made. We didn’t hang around.
It’s a rare and joyous thing to explore the nooks and crannies that cities invariably have, and the weirdness there within, and doing so on skateboards and with good friends in tow, it is all the more so…we blasted through car parks, down hills, through the forgotten bits of the city, stopped off at an art gallery in an industrial estate, before ending up at an amazing d.i.y. skatepark of sorts, that the good scumbags of Sheffield have made off of their own backs behind a burnt-out and decaying shell of a factory down near some railway tracks. If where you’re at, ain’t where it’s at, then what do you do? Sit around and moan about it, or get busy making something of your own? Actively changing your environment for the better, not bothering about such trivialities as legality or funding. The very spirit of d.i.y. is alive and well, lurking in and amongst the industrial estates and wastelands, not to mention garages and lock-ups of this faire land.
The sun eventually set and went underground and we followed suit; stumbling across another scene of desolation and industrial decay, eventually finding some stairs leading down to a brightened underground cellar, where some sort of modern-day speak-easy was in full-swing, complete with a bar selling booze, trashy garage bands rocking out and all sorts of weird and wonderful folk in weird and wonderful get-ups, I’m not entirely sure how responsible the advent of All Hallow’s Eve was, as I reckon these sub-terrain freaks probably look just as far out during the day as they did this particular night.
All things must pass, and weekends are no different, in the perceived blink of a blurry, bloodshot eye I was all too soon back on my way south, retracing my route from the day previous, in a fine October drizzle which streaked the world with a keen lack of symmetry, turning to sleet up on the moors. Bad weather is nothing but bad weather, and did little to dampen the mood a fine few days of gallavanting and righteous stupidity can inspire, and sinking further down into my coat(s) I clipped along, thoughts following in momentum, hazily looking forward to having no tales of breakdowns or mechanical mishaps to regale once I got home.
Slowing for a slippery cattle grid, the B-road which winds through the grounds of Chatsworth House opened up ahead in an empty, unbroken stretch of tarmac, leading eventually home. Zen is a clichéd and overused term, especially in reference to ‘sickles, but something similar, if not quite that was definitely in the ascendancy.
Nothing will kill a lazy daydream quicker that the sudden appearance of 4x4 pulling out of a side road straight in front of you; the abstract being replaced instantly with the cold, hard tangibility of a massive lump of metal on wheels obscuring nearly all vision. Knowing that the road ahead was clear in both directions, I pulled out into the right-hand lane in order to avoid running clean into the back of the twat-mobile, and would have made it safely past if they hadn’t then decided to swing right again, almost immediately, into the next side road along from the one they’d just emerged. They say the moments before a crash tend to run in slow motion, these didn’t. I had just enough time to register that I was going to hit them, and swing the bars hard right before I was watching first my outstretched hands, then face hit the rear side panel of the 4x4. The crunch of metal and bone against metal was impressive and sickening and as I flew through the air, I remember my main thought being faint surprise that my eyes were still open. I bounced a few times, eventually landing face down on the wet gravel, some distance from the point of impact. I had enough time to wonder if my legs were still attached to the rest of my body, which was neither deigned nor confirmed by trying to move my feet, as I couldn’t feel anything other than the all encompassing electrical numbness that shock induces, before I was swamped with the faces and hands and shouts of people rushing over me to try and help.
Several cyclists clad in bright lycra turned out to be doctors and moved about me swiftly, making sure nothing was about to fall off without fuss or hysteria, whilst the driver of the 4x4 kept shouting “YOU’RE ALREET, MATE! YOU’RE ALREET!” over their heads at me, which seemed to be a strange thing to be shouting at the time, given the circumstances.
The rain began to fall heavier, flashing blue lights at the edge of my vision marked the first-response unit, then the police’s arrival, and soon the cyclists were replaced my paramedics in green overalls, who proceeded to cut nearly every single item of clothing off of me, checking for internal damage, joking, gravely whilst slicing in that reassuring, professional way that comes from constantly dealing with mind-boggling shit and blood and guts.
Head stuffed into a neck-brace and body strapped down to a rigid stretcher, it’s hard not to think of paralysis, though once inside the warmth and dry of the ambulance, out of the rain and convoluted concerns of the milling citizens gathered outside, the feeling slowly returned to my lower half, the numbness of shock being replaced by the pain of cuts, bruises, torn muscles and a good case of concussion, and mercifully, that is all.
The first paramedic continued cutting at clothing and joking; “’ere, it’s funny that your top says Eyehategod on it…” he remarked, jovially, as he cut through my denim to reveal the EHG patch on my hoody beneath. “How so?” I just about managed. “Well my duck, you was hit reet outside a church!” He was right, it was kinda funny.
Luck, like most other things, is relative. It sucks that the world is full of shitty drivers in huge machines, oblivious to anyone and everybody else, because from up there, behind the safety of their expensive climate-controlled, faux leather interiors, they can afford to be oblivious. To be knocked off a bike that you love and that you have invested blood, sweat, and sometimes, very nearly, tears into getting up and running is a shitter too, but when all is said and done, to end up with all limbs intact and injuries that should heal up completely in time…fuck man! All else is small change really.
Plus, there’s that long, low winter ahead, just right for getting things straightened out and maybe even changed up a little, ready for next spring…and when all that straightening out gets a little heavy, and its time to get a little loose, let’s not forgot those Liberty Caps fresh from the field; just so for a spot of self-medication.