Julian Barnes’ definition of style and how it applies to cycling
Week Monday 17th May — Friday 21st May
The early morning sunshine was misleading. By the time I got to the junction of Green Lanes and the A406 (otherwise known as the North Circular Road, or North Circ) on my two-wheeler, the sky was overcast and north wind-driven grey clouds were presaging heavy rain.
It didn’t take long for the showers to materialise. Nothing like a Monday morning downpour to snap you awake and set you for the week ahead.
One and a half sugars is either just one or two. Very rarely does the person making the tea or coffee get it right. That’s a fact. This applies to all work environments, from offices to school staff rooms.
“Style is a function of theme. Style is not imposed on subject-matter, but arises from it. Style is truth to thought. The correct word, the true phrase, the perfect sentence are always “out there” somewhere; the writer’s task is to locate them by whatever means he can. For some this means no more than a trip to the supermarket and a loading-up of the metal basket; for others it means being lost on a plain in Greece, in the dark, in snow, in the rain, and finding what you seek only by some rare trick such as barking like a dog.” Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes.
The same is applicable to cycling. The way we create our own “cycling style” is similarly individualised. How we set our pedal up, on the left or the right. How we check the traffic around us, either a furtive glance over our shoulder, or a more professional-looking, almost-under-the-armpit look. How we navigate stationery vehicles at junctions (some slalom their way around them until they get to the front, others prefer to hang back at the end of the queue). This is what defines us as riders. And as instructors.
Inmost schools you find the same old messages on the noticeboard: timetables, health and safety directives, union bulletins and staff responsible for safeguarding. And then, there are the schools in which you come across a beautiful display of photos where people are hugging and beaming at the camera, in the “before” times.
Life’s not about finding all the right answers, but asking yourself tough questions. If not, ask a cycling instructor. We arrive in schools with the expectation of providing nuggets of wisdom on how to ride on the road. Most of the time, though, what we’re doing is unlocking knowledge. We’re eliciting the answers our young charges already have but are too young or afraid to ask.
Cycling training is not just about riding a bicycle well, but capitalising on the sense of freedom your pair of wheels has already given you and building up the skills and capacity to do it more often and more assertively. In a nutshell, we provide the frame(work), you provide the feet and the brain.
That moment when a member of staff starts a conversation about a particular child only to realise halfway through that there’s a visitor in the staff room (me) and suddenly ellipsis ensues.
Asensor-operated bin greets me when I step into the disabled toilet. Its slowly-opening mouth an inviting yawn to drop my litter or take a peek in. I choose the latter and I’m presented with an array of used tissues and sanitary towels. It looks slightly frightening, this bin, it does. It reminds me of a crocodile, lying still on the grass, fangs open, its long row of teeth on display.