She was warm and round and not very tall with brown hair that fell in waves around her shoulders. He was tall and lean, tanned from the sun and the outdoors, older than her by quite a few years I think and his hair had mostly left him leaving a small ring of grey stubble just above his ears, handsome though but a mis-matched couple and he loved cycling but she didn’t, not that that seemed to matter.
I knew him but I didn’t know her until later.
She was attractive, not pretty exactly but when you rested your eyes on her you were in no rush to look away
My wife had told me about the club; she had met a woman at the bus-stop who had said that her husband was a keen cyclist and belonged to a club and that I should try it if I was interested in cycling.
I decided to try it and turned up the next Saturday morning. Half a dozen cyclists stood around, leaning on their bikes and chatting. One turned around as I arrived; I was nervous and uncertain, uncomfortable in a group with strangers, never sure of what to say or whether others would find me boring.
However, they soon put me at ease. They were mainly in their 50s and introduced themselves. Lenny was short with small watery eyes and stood slightly lop-sided with his arms folded. Ben was hard and muscular with fading ginger hair and a neat military moustache like a guards officer; in one had he held a small cigar. Jim had thinning grey hair, twinkling eyes and glasses. Nick was the tallest; the weather was not warm but he was wearing just a thin jersey and seemed not to notice the cold. Frank had brown hair and a beard and thick lensed glasses, he was serious and earnest.
‘Good morning,’ said Nick. ‘I’m Nick.’ He held out his hand and I shook it. ‘Jeff. I thought I’d join the ride if that’s okay.’
‘Welcome along,’ said Nick. ‘Don’t worry about remembering everyone’s names; we won’t bother to remember yours.’
Just after 10.30 we got going. Ben led the way with Lenny close behind. Nick rode with me at the back of the group.
I am shy and self-conscious with strangers and tend to compensate by asking lots of questions and so I fired them at Nick; what did he do, how long had he been in the club, how long would the ride be, how hard the pace, what if I couldn’t keep up, how long had he had his bike, where did he live and so on. Nick was patient, friendly and welcoming, articulate, good company and he fielded by many questions with humour and warmth.
We headed for the Kent countryside; the pace was harder than I had been used to, having mainly just practiced on a turbo in the garage. It wasn’t long before the route became steeper. I struggled with the unfamiliar gears, unfamiliar leg muscles ached and I soon found myself in the wrong gear and unable to turn the pedals. I was forced to dismount and try again. I could feel myself reddening with embarrassment. Nick was there with me; he slowed down.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘We all struggle at the beginning.’
‘It’s the gears,’ I said. ‘I’m not very used to them. I couldn’t get in the right gear.’
Nick ignored this lie and waited until I managed to get going again. The others had gone ahead but waited at the top of the hill for us to catch up.
We continued on through Downe and the back of Biggin Hill, Knockholt, past the garden centre and into Halstead. I kept up but my heart was beating fast and I was breathing in short gasps, the muscles in my legs were aching and I was tiring fast.
We came to a big roundabout. Nick said, ‘We’ll go left here.’
The others went straight over the roundabout. ‘Where are they going?’ I asked Nick. ‘Oh, they like to do an extra loop sometimes. Don’t worry about them.’
Nick and I continued on, heading for the café stop. We came to a steep hill. ‘Get into your lowest gear now,’ said Nick. ‘You’ll need it.’
We reached the café and I was grateful for the rest; my legs were burning and my feet aching and my heart was beating fast. The others arrived a few moments later and we sat in the warm sunshine drinking coffee and eating fat bacon sandwiches, the butter dripping and congealing on my palm.
The ride home was largely downhill and easier but I was tired by the time I reached home. I slowly undressed and soaked in a hot bath to soothe my aching limbs.
‘How was it?’ my wife asked. ‘Yeah, loved it, can’t wait to go again.’
The next day I went out alone on my bike, determined to get up the hill I had so shamefully walked the day before. It was a struggle but I made it and basked in the glow of self-congratulation.
And so the pattern of my Saturdays was set. Come 10.30 I joined the rest of the gang at the meeting place and we went riding through the Kent countryside, often following the same routes but stopping at different cafes. The group varied in size from 6 to about 12 but Nick was always there and often we rode side by side. As the weeks passed I learned more of his life, a little of his family, a lot of his views and opinions and his knowledge and love of all things cycling. My own legs grew stronger, my breathing became more measured and my heart began to beat a little slower.
On one ride Nick said to me, ‘it takes about 3 months before you call yourself a cyclist as opposed to someone who rides a bike.’ I longed for that 3 months and waited impatiently for it to arrive.
‘How long will it be before I get to your level?’ I asked Nick once as we rode past Downe House, the sunlight flickering through the hedgerows and Darwin’s dusty experiments disappeared behind us. ‘You never will,’ said Nick, not unkindly. ‘The fact is you can’t get the miles in your legs to catch us up. Of course you’ll get stronger and fitter but we continue to ride so we’ll always be ahead of you.’
I was disappointed by this but decided to compensate by buying more cycling gear, gradually and not so gradually the garage filled like flood water rising through a town with more and more items of cycling kit – shoes, helmets, tools, tyres, inner tubes, another bicycle and then another, lights, wheels, pumps, mudguards, saddles, jerseys, shorts, base layers, endless pairs of socks, books, magazines, photos, memorabilia.
I lied to my wife when she asked me the price of all this kit, usually under-stating the amount by about 10%. If something cost £150 I would say ‘oh it was about 130 I think,’ if it was £50 I would say ‘oh, about 40, 45 I forget exactly,’ if it was £3000 as some bicycles were, I would say ‘oh, about 2600, 2750, something like that.’ There was no reason for these untruths – my wife never reproached me for the amount I spent on cycling equipment and I did not deliberately set out to deceive and yet somehow I could not tell the truth about my spending.
As time passed I was no longer the new member and ceased to think of myself as an interloper and imposter; I was one of the club. Many of the other members had nick-names but for some reason I didn’t; I always felt that being given a nick-name was a true sign of having been accepted and without one I had yet to cross that final threshold. But I was comforted by the thought that Nick also had no nick-name; some people are just known by their names – he was one such and maybe that would also be my fate.
Riding every Saturday we watched the play of the seasons as summer’s warmth and sunshine gave way to dampness and cold and the leaves on the trees grew darker and began to fall. Being England one always felt that it rained regularly but in fact there were very few Saturdays when it was not dry. We continued to ride if it was drizzling although if there was heavy rain at 10am I would seldom venture out; some hardy damp souls still met at the usual place and sloshed through the wet roads to the café stop.
The onset of winter had little impact on Nick; he kept to shorts and a thin jersey with perhaps a base layer where the rest of us moved swiftly into knee and then leg warmers and jacket and neck warmers as the thermometer sank. Nick’s only concession to the weather was to put a woollen beanie on his head and this high-lighted the big difference between Nick and the rest of the club and one or two others – he never wore a helmet.
‘You don’t wear a helmet,’ I asked him. ‘Why is that?’
‘I’ve never worn a helmet,’ he said. ‘I’ve been cycling for 50 years and I don’t want to wear one. We never used to wear them you know, it’s only quite recently the pros wear them, you look at photos of Coppi, Pantani, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault – they’re not wearing helmets.’
‘But you have 2 children,’ I said. ‘Don’t they want you to wear a helmet?’
‘They do,’ he said. ‘But it doesn’t make you safer. It restricts your peripheral vision, you can’t see behind so easily, it’s uncomfortable. I ride because I love the freedom, the open air, the wind in your hair, what’s left of it, the joy of it. I think the risk is very low, I’ve never hurt my head in an accident.’
‘I’m surprised there isn’t a club rule,’ I said. ‘I would have thought it was compulsory.’
‘Well, it isn’t,’ said Nick. ‘And I hope there won’t be. I might have to leave. And there’s a few others think like me.’
Nick didn’t talk a great deal about his family. I knew he had 2 children, both in their 20s and that his daughter was a teacher but I didn’t know their names or anything else about them. The fact was that although we got on well together, what we had in common was the cycling and more specifically, the club membership, that was the glue that bound us together – take that away and what was left would not last long.
But the cycling was enough.
It got so that I ached if I couldn’t make the Saturday ride and became tense and tetchy throughout the week if I couldn’t go. I looked forward to it so, the riding and the banter, the fresh countryside, the coffee and the melting butter from the bacon sandwiches.
Winter snuck in like a gas and settled on the land. Patches of treacherous black ice appeared, the puddles froze, ice crystals formed when your nose dripped and the cold numbed your fingers and toes. But still we rode on through the slush and the white countryside, our breath white and cloudy. Some cafes closed for the winter months but others stayed open and we were grateful for a radiator to warm our chilly behinds and thaw the ice from our gloves and hats. Occasionally Nick would don a jacket and gloves but he remained resolutely in his shorts and remained helmetless despite the slippery roads and hardened ground.
With the coming of Spring the landscape changed as green shoots and colour returned to the land. The rides now were warm and well-attended, cafes that had been closed re-opened, chairs and tables appeared outside, leg warmers, jackets, gloves and long tights were gradually discarded, pale skin darkened, sun-shades emerged and the numbers meeting on a Saturday began to swell – 12, 15, sometimes 20.
Nick bought a new bike to celebrate his retirement – a Specialized Tarmac model, white with a Shimano 105 group-set; it was an extra-large frame to match his 6’ 4” frame. He entered a number of time trials and was delivering good times. Liberated from the pressure of work, he organised a regular mid-week ride and attacked the Surrey Hills in the company of Jim.
I was much stronger now and began to call myself a cyclist; I listed cycling as a hobby and mentioned it as part of my Twitter and Linked-In profiles. The club planned a series of trips to France and I put my name down to attend; accepted as a key member I tried to encourage new riders and stay with them when they struggled with the pace. I never forgot my first time when I had had to dismount and push my bike up the hill.
The Saturday of the May bank holiday was warm and dry; a light breeze blew. The gang assembled at the usual meeting point; 8 riders including Nick on his new Specialized, bare arms and legs as usual, his bald head shining and tanned.
‘How you doing?’
‘Yeah, good. Good day for it.’
‘Yep, sure is.’
‘How’s the bike?’
‘I love it, it’s great. Isn’t it time you got a new bike? That one’s looking a bit dirty.’
‘Ha ha. Maybe soon. I’ll talk to the wife.’
Up the usual road and through the park we dodged the fresh dog shit on the path and clattered past the under 11 football team practicing their drills. This part of Kent is very popular with cyclists and other clubs and we passed a steady stream of riders coming in the other direction. Some waved, some nodded, raised a hand or called out, others ignored us completely, heads down as they raced by.
We rode two abreast lipping down to single file as the road narrowed or the traffic backed up.
A small group of riders started a break-away. Nick was riding along and talking to Chris. I was behind them about 20 yards back.
We were riding through Knockholt, a small village with cars parked either side of the road but not much traffic and the sky was warm and blue with the sun glinting on the wind-screens. Birds flew overhead, the pace was decent but not racing as we approached the right turn to Halstead. I was watching Nick and Chris who were riding side by side and chatting. Neither of them was wearing a helmet.
People say that accidents happen in slow motion; they don’t of course but looking back on them your brain slows everything down, trying to make sense of what seems unclear and unexplained. And the brain makes up events and confuses things so that afterwards you are never quite sure whether something actually happened or you just think it must have happened that way because nothing else makes sense.
So, I don’t know whether Nick had removed one hand from his bars, perhaps to scratch his nose or wave his hand as he made a point to Chris, or whether my brain thought that’s what he must have done to give order and explanation to what came next.
Nick’s bike hit a bump or a pot-hole in the road and flew into the air. His shoes came free of the pedals and I watched him in the air, for a moment he seemed to hang suspended upside down in the sky, his arms and legs pointed outwards before he fell ever so slowly to land on the tarmac. I can’t get that image out of my head – the blue sky, the cars, the other riders, an ordinary, normal pleasant Saturday and Nick crucified against the sky and then falling ever so slowly to the ground. The side of his head hit the ground and he was still. Chris and I had stopped almost together and we jumped off our bikes and ran towards him.
Blood spread slowly beneath his head and seeped from his ear and dribbled down the road. Strange gargling noises seemed to issue from his throat. Chris knelt beside him and removed his jacket and folded it gently and slipped it under Nick’s head. He moved Nick into the recovery position on his side. Nick’s eyes were closed and he continued to make a gargling sound. Chris gently lifted his chin so that Nick’s tongue wouldn’t block his throat.
I removed my phone from my pocket and switched it on; it would take an age to find a signal. People had emerged from nearby houses and clustered round. Cars were stopped on either side of the street blocking the road.
‘Someone must phone his wife,’ I said. ‘Does anyone know his wife’s name or number?’
It struck me that we all rode together for months but what bound us was a love of cycling; our knowledge of each other’s lives was very sketchy. Nick had two children, I knew that much, but I didn’t know his wife’s name. Chris had her phone number and I called it. It rang a long time before a woman’s voice answered. I walked away from where Nick lay still on the ground.
‘Hello,’ I said hesitantly, ‘are you Nick’s wife?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘who are you? What’s happened? Is it Nick?’
I could hear the panic rising in her voice.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘My name’s Jeff. I ride with Nick in the club. He’s had an accident.’
‘Is he…?’ she asked.
‘He’s not dead,’ I said. ‘But he’s badly injured. We’re with him now. We’re waiting for the ambulance.’
‘I’m round at a friend’s,’ she said. ‘Can you call me back when the ambulance is there.’
‘I will,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.’
‘Mary,’ she said.
The ambulance arrived soon after. Chris moved away as the paramedics worked on Nick. A woman emerged from her house with mugs of tea. The rest of the club riders stood together in a group. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, it was still warm but a cool breeze seemed to blow.
The clatter of helicopter blades sounded overhead. It landed in a field a few hundred yards away.
I phoned Mary back.
‘They’re taking him to hospital in the helicopter.’
‘How is he?’
‘It’s not good. I’m so sorry.’
‘Is he conscious?’
‘No, he isn’t. But the doctors are with him.’
‘Will you go with him?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘He won’t be alone.’
‘Which hospital are they taking him to?’
I told her.
‘I can’t drive,’ she said. ‘I’ll ask my friend to take me. I’ll see you at the hospital.’
I spoke to one of the policemen who were taking statements from the other club members and others who had seen what happened.
‘Can I go with him? I promised his wife that I would go with him.’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘That’s fine.’ I walked over to the helicopter.
‘Can I go with him?’ I asked.
The paramedic shook his head. ‘No,’ he said. ‘There’s no room.’
‘But the policewoman said it was ok. I promised his wife.’
The paramedic shrugged. ‘Sorry,’ he said.
I picked up my bike. I spoke to Chris.
‘I’m going to ride home,’ I said. ‘I’ll get changed, get my car and drive up to the hospital.’
‘Okay mate,’ said Chris. ‘I’ll see you later.’
I rode quickly home, carefully but going as fast as I could.
My wife was home and I explained what had happened. I changed and got in my car and drove to the hospital.
Being a Saturday afternoon the A & E department was crowded with the outcome of the day’s activities. Boys in kit with football injuries, minor traffic accidents, scalded arms, severed fingers, screaming babies, the usual coughs, colds, ear-aches, sprained ankles, minor strokes, nose bleeds, people on crutches, in wheel-chairs, battered, bruised and bleeding limbs.
A harassed nurse told me that Nick had ben wheeled away to be examined and directed me to a small room along a corridor. There were half a dozen gloomy looking people but no-one who looked like they might be Nick’s relatives. I sat down and waited. The room was windowless, airless and gloomy with fewer chairs than there were people. I offered my chair to someone and leaned against the wall.
A tall, good-looking pale blonde-haired girl came quickly into the room. She glanced anxiously around. I went over and spoke to her.
‘Are you here for Nick Spencer?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’m his daughter, Alice. My Mum phoned me. I came straight here. What happened?’
I recounted what I remembered.
‘Was he wearing a helmet?’ she said.
‘No,’ I said. ‘He wasn’t.’
She cried out.
‘I knew it. He never wears a fucking helmet. The number of times I’ve asked him to wear a helmet and he won’t do it.’
I wasn’t convinced that in Nick’s case wearing a helmet would have made much of a difference. I felt that the damage was probably caused form the impact of his brain hitting the inside of his skull when he landed, but I didn’t want to speculate with Alice there.
A small woman rushed into the room accompanied by a plum middle-aged man. She glanced around and seeing Alice rushed towards her and they embraced.
She saw me and looked at Alice. I gave her a hug; it seemed the only thing to do.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I said. It seemed like the only thing to say.
‘Were you with him? Of course you were, you phoned me. What happened? No, don’t tell me. Yes, tell me, I want to know. I suppose he wasn’t wearing a helmet?’
‘He never wears a helmet Mum,’ said Alice. ‘You know that.’
I explained what had happened.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I said. I didn’t know what else to say.
‘Do you think he’s got brain damage?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘I’m sorry, I’m not a doctor.’
‘No, of course not. Sorry. I don’t want him if he’s a vegetable. I can’t look after him.’
I was shocked. She didn’t sound like she was joking.
‘We’ll have to see,’ I said. ‘Let’s hope it’s not like that.’
‘I can’t look after him,’ she said again. ‘I’ve got my own life, I can’t be expected to look after a vegetable. This was supposed to be my time.’
I looked at Alice who was crying. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
‘Stop saying that,’ she said and smiled at me. She had a nice smile, coquettish, like a girl although she must have been in her late 40s I supposed.
A nurse came into the room and called us over. The other people were looking at us; they had their own little tragedies brewing and awaited their own outcomes.
Mary, her friend, Alice and I followed the nurse into the A&E ward. It was full, all the cubicles occupied and nurses and doctors were rushing around.
Nick lay on a bed with a big bandage around his head. His arms were by his side. A tube came out of his mouth. His eyes were closed. He looked quite peaceful.
‘Is he conscious? Can he hear me?’ asked Mary.
‘He’s been sedated,’ said the nurse. ‘But he might be able to hear you.’
I stepped back and Mary and Alice lent in close.
‘Has he got brain damage?’ asked Mary.
‘I can’t answer that,’ said the nurse. ‘You need to talk to the doctor.’
‘But you know, don’t you?’ said Mary. ‘You know.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said the nurse. ‘You need to talk to the doctor.’
‘Would you like me to take you to the hospital tomorrow?’ I said to Mary. ‘I’d be glad to pick you up and take you. It would be a privilege.’
‘I can’t come tomorrow,’ said Mary. ‘I’ve got something organised.’
It seemed strange to me that she obviously didn’t regard visiting her husband as a priority but tragedy seems to strike people in different ways. Some are totally overwhelmed by it but Mary didn’t seem overly affected. Perhaps underneath she was a broiling maelstrom of emotions but outwardly she seemed not to give a damn.
I went to see Nick twice more in the following week. I learned that they removed part of his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain. He remained in a coma. Once I picked up Mary and Alice and took them to the hospital. We were laughing and joking in the car and Mary was happy and smiling although Alice was more quiet. It seemed strange to be giggling as their husband and father continued to lie, unresponsive and silent in the hospital with part of his head missing.
‘If they let him out and he goes into a home,’ said Mary once, ‘I won’t go and visit him. I can’t stand those places. You go, darling,’ she said to Alice, or maybe to me.
I phoned her on the Sunday and she told me that Nick had died. He hadn’t regained consciousness.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said. I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
On Monday she telephoned me at work.
‘Would you do something for me?’
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘What is it?’
‘Would you go and identify the body?’
I thought it odd that she didn’t want to do that herself. I thought that was something you owed to a loved one; no-one would want it but surely it was one of those things that you just did.
‘They want someone who was with him when he died.’
‘But I wasn’t with him when he died,’ I said. ‘I was with him when he had the accident but he didn’t die then.’
‘Please,’ she said. ‘I can’t face it. I’d be so grateful.’
‘Well, of course I’d be happy to.’
The hospital was like a hospital. The mortuary was not easy to find; it was sign-posted but the signs were small and hard to see; it was not somewhere that visitors were to be reminded of.
It was cold in the mortuary. Apart from the attendant and me there was no-one else alive in there. I waited in the lobby while she checked the paperwork and my identity.’
‘Are you family?’
‘No. Just a friend.’
‘Are you okay?’ she asked.
‘I’m fine,’ I said.
I had worked in a geriatric hospital when I was a teenager and had seen a number of dead bodies before. The first time the Funeral Directors came to the hospital I had shown them to the mortuary to collect the body and one of them gave me 50p (it was a long time ago).
‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘You don’t need to tip me, it’s my job.’
‘Take it,’ he said. ‘It’s tradition.’
I went into the room and saw Nick lying on a table covered in a blanket. He looked like he was still in bed. His head was back, his eyes and mouth were closed. He looked like Nick but at the same time didn’t look like him; of course I had always seen him standing up or cycling and always in his cycling kit; apart from that time in the hospital I had never seen him lying down and of course all the times before he had been alive. Dead people look dead, there’s no doubt about it. Call it the soul or life-force or anything else you want, but dead people don’t have it. Nick looked empty, cold, finished, gone, like a shell on the beach, all washed up on the sand and all the shells and all the pebbles and stones and rocks are alone, thrown together and piled up they may be, but each one alone.
‘So long, mate,’ I said.
‘Yeah, that’s him,’ I said as I left.
The Saturday following Nick’s death the club rode out to the scene of the accident. Many riders turned up, including a number who didn’t normally ride on a Saturday. It was a sombre procession that made its way to Knockholt. We paused at the spot and took some pictures. There was a big steaming pile of dog shit in the road marking the spot where Nick had died. The pot-hole looked innocent and harmless, a dark patch in the road, more like a stain than a hole; it was hard to believe that something so minor should have altered so many lives.
Some of the people who had helped Nick came out of their houses and talked to us. It was warm and clear and the sun was shining and the dog-shit smell wafted through the clear air.
Mary invited me to the funeral and asked me if I would speak in Church about Nick’s love of cycling. Fifteen of Nick’s club mates attended the funeral. Mary didn’t speak but her daughter did and one of her friends, and me. I looked at Mary while I spoke; it was clear that this was a part of Nick’s life that she knew very little.
This is how I finished:
‘And what I would like, what we would all like, is this Saturday at 10.30 at the bottom of Corkscrew Hill in West Wickham, that Nick would turn up and greet us and we would get on our bikes and go riding through the green lanes and hills of Kent, just like we used to do.‘
Mary organised a party at their house after the funeral. There was a nice selection of food and plenty to drink and music and people standing around chatting; it was easy to forget that someone had died. Mary had changed into a party dress and floated around with a glass of wine in her hand, singing and dancing to Fleetwood Mac. She didn’t seem terribly upset although that may have been just an act. Nick’s son and daughter were there; they seemed pretty upset to me.
I gave Mary a hug when I left. It had been a strange day.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said.
A few weeks later I received an email from her. It was strange – flirty – with that hint of coquettishness I had sensed before. She said that the police had contacted her; they still had Nick’s bike and his other possessions. I offered to collect them.
‘I’ll bring them to your house,’ I said.
‘I don’t want them here,’ she said. ‘Could you keep them for me?’
‘I’d be happy to.’
I drove to the police station and, after checking my driving licence the policeman brought out the items in a plastic carrier bag and then wheeled out his bike. There were a few scratches on the frame and the brake hoods were twisted but other than that it appeared unscathed. One of his shoes was still attached to the pedal; obviously his foot was loose and came out of his shoe when he crashed. It looked incongruous and slightly sinister; a single large cycling shoe gently swinging on the pedal. It seemed strange that a man had died but his bicycle was hardly damaged. The policeman handed me the carrier bag. Inside was the other shoe, a small padlock and chain, a chocolate bar, a folded cycling cap, an inner tube, a small tool kit and a pump.
I loaded everything into my car and drove home. I emailed Mary and said that the items were at my house until she decided what to do. After a few more weeks Mary contacted me again and said she didn’t want anything and I should dispose of the items as I saw fit.
The shoes sat on a shelf in my garage and reproached me every time I saw them; eventually I took them to the dump. I threw away the chocolate bar. I kept the cap and the pump, tool kit and inner tube. The padlock required a combination and I couldn’t bring myself to ask Mary if she knew the combination so that also I threw away.
The bicycle was a problem. Nick was a tall man and it was an extra large frame so too large for me. I toyed with putting it on Ebay and giving the money raised to Mary but I felt that it wouldn’t be right not to tell a prospective purchaser that it had been in an incident in which someone had died so I didn’t do that. There was one other rider in the club who was the same height as Nick; he was Polish and had known Nick well – he said he would like it. I called Mary and asked if she minded it being given to him. She said she was more than happy so he came and collected it. He had a label made ‘In memory of Nick’ and rode it thereafter; it was a nice bike after all.
Mary tried to sue the Council and engaged various no win, no fee solicitors and I made a number of statements to them. I gave evidence at the inquest many months later. Mary and Alice came; they were neat and smart and nicely dressed. The traffic policeman was there and me and the Coroner and his clerk; no-one else. We waited in the big, gloomy court-room. It didn’t last very long. The Coroner commented on the dangers of pot-holes and the importance of wearing helmets.
I didn’t see Mary again. I heard that she didn’t succeed in suing the Council; the pot-hole wasn’t deep enough.
Some months afterwards one of my club-mates attended a hill climb event and, waiting to buy a cup of coffee, he saw Mary arm in arm with another cyclist, a tall man, lean and tanned. He was wearing a helmet.