Author Topic: My Critical Mass

My Critical Mass
« on: May 28, 2005 »
My recent excursion to Leicester ended with a visit to A&E due to heart palpitations brought on by the execrable captain of The Yodelling Boudicca, about whom no more shall be said, ever. I returned home to my delightful semi-detached bungalow, watered the Hydrangea which is artificial yet still benefits from a thorough wash, and was almost immediately off again. This is unusual for me as my constitution typically requires that I enjoy a short period of adjournment from the cares of "the outside world" after my travels to the North.

The occasion which prompted my break from routine is something called Critical Mass. It was my understanding that this is a pleasant excursion undertaken by cyclists on a regular basis for the purposes of education. The email I received from an anonymous but helpful young man named FreddieKrugger99 made it quite clear that the May ride was to be devoted to appreciating Blue Plaque houses which served as former residences of mathematicians devoted to the unravelling of Pi.


click to enlarge

In pleasant anticipation of the intellectual rigours ahead of me I boarded the train to London-town, my childhood home and the setting for my early romance with my future ex-husband Theodore. I had decided to ride my new Brompton, acquired under terms of a settlement involving a certain nautically employed person and a faulty chandelier.

Readers aware of my earlier technical difficulties will be pleased to learn that I had spent the morning folding and unfolding this delightful little sprite in the front garden and so was no longer a “virgin”. This innocent endeavour attracted the attention of the local constable, concerned that I might be engaged in an unnatural act. There had been reports in the local paper of just such an incident involving a known Bickerton fondler, so I was reassured rather than outraged by the policeman's concern for public morals.

The train ride was uneventful except for the lack of Earl Grey on the refreshments trolley, which caused a formerly distinguished gentleman to commence foaming at the mouth and speaking in tongues, his spittle-flecked consonants a source of some irritation to a vacationing Romanian lecturer in salivatory linguistics, whose sense of intellectual curiosity made war with his desire to consume the latest Dan Brown 'novel' (even smarties like candy) and caused him some gastrointestinal distress.

On my arrival I made my way down to Waterloo Bridge without incident.

Gentle readers, I was wholly unprepared for what followed. My suspicions were first raised when I accepted a flyer from a gentleman which I assumed contained pertinent biographical sketches of dabblers in the number arts. I was shocked to discover a solicitation for an "unclothed" bicycle ride, which needless to say is not an event which would interest me in the slightest, despite the fact that I continue to cut a girlish figure. I daresay if looks could kill that purveyor of filth would now be pushing up daisies in a naturist cemetery.

A perambulation through the crowd of cyclists was enough to inform me that the Critical Mass isn’t in fact a coalition of scholars awheel but instead a protest and celebration wrapped in one unorganised mess. I am not without a spirit of adventure, however, and despite the fact that I had been invited under false pretenses determined to participate in the accepted fashion.

I set my Brompton down by tucking its rear wheel underneath - delightful! - and patiently awaited developments. As I was without compatriot this left me free to “people watch”. Truth to tell, by all appearances it was a most sociable gathering. One man in particular attracted my attention. He was furtively stuffing what looked to be a 'Cycle Naked' flyer into his trouser pocket and searching the crowd with what can only be described as a hungry look when his eyes fastened on me. I should know that look. It was Theodore. I could do nothing but sigh.

“I heard that from 20 feet away, Gertrude,” is the way he greeted his former partner (what a soulless word this generation has chosen for the sacrament!) after wheeling his coconut brown Moulton over to my location. Truly I am not coldhearted so I gave him a quick peck on the cheek as proof of my residual affection. We did spend many years as man and wife and Moulton.

He looked about the same as he always does. Disheveled, haughty, priapic. “I see you received my email,” he said with evident satisfaction, in fact licking his lips.

Readers, I am not a physically violent woman, reserving my stamina for the mental arena. Nevertheless I slapped my former husband. Most people on the receiving end of such a communication could be expected to recoil in anger, or hurt. Theodore’s face assumed instead a rictus of dreamy satisfaction.

I dressed him down thoroughly, which he seemed to enjoy all the more, but honestly there was more heat than fire in my presentation.

“It’s a lovely evening for a bicycle ride,” said he when I had finished, as if my verbiage was a roadside attraction worth rubbernecking but not stopping at. I sighed again – I am told this is one of my chief social failings – and accepted the inevitable: Theodore would be my ride partner on Critical Mass.

to be continued

My Critical Mass
« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2005 »
It is a fact often commented upon that no one leads a Critical Mass; or rather, such duties are passed unawares to whoever happens to be in front. Not this time. After a tedious session of chitchat which we both found distasteful but were unable to disengage from without the usual gamesmanship (we both like having the last word), Theodore uncoupled his eyes from my breasts, stood up on the nearest table, which happened to be filled with the wares of one of the booksellers who makes a home under Waterloo Bridge, and whistled very loudly - a trick he claims he learned during a course of Pavlovian study and which did indeed involuntarily summon up certain shameless urges within me despite myself.

"People of the bike!" he keened in that always peculiar register he adopts whenever condescending to transmit his brainwaves to the masses. At this the bookseller whose stock was being trampled began to take an interest.

"Oi! You stand on it, you've bought it!" called the vendor, hitherto concerning himself with pulp fiction to pass the time.

In defiance, Theo bent over and stacked a few New Age volumes into an untidy and structurally unsound pile and climbed higher. "People of the bike!" he shouted again, extracting a rubberbanded volume of notes from his jacket pocket. My former husband has never been able to speak extemporaneously, even while engaged in his marital duties, now of course auctioned to the lowest bidder.

A small crowd had gathered. Curiosity or pity, I was unable to ascertain.

Theodore raised his hand, not so much a post-Leninist weatherman testing the air as a Leonard Bernstein opening the first movement:

"I have gathered you together under this profane example of architecture to serve as my shock troops as we 'reclaim the streets'. Always remember: we are the traffic! Let's go!"

Evidently a short movement, the coda almost worthy of a Hollywood scriptwriter. As it happened a woman astride a nearby fixed wheel machine at that very moment had the misfortune to tumble from her impromptu trackstand, expelling an involuntary toot of surprise on her whistle - many riders had them on lanyards around their neck. This prompted shrill rejoinders from across the crowd, which I am informed announces both impatience and joyfulness in equal measure. As it was getting to be about that time anyway, a preliminary rustling of breathable fabrics launched the first wave of critical massers, accompanied as always by a metropolitan police escort. This later fact summoned an anti-establishment tirade from Theodore, still somehow maintaining vertical hold on his now-leaning tower of peacenik literature, face flushed with what he perceived to be his success with his troops.

"No! You can go your own way!" he barked, entirely unaware he was covering Fleetwood Mac. At this he promptly toppled into a small stack of heuristic literature. The bookseller was beside himself; I compensated for his damages from my purse, considering it a savings on the bail I would've felt unfortunately compelled to supply otherwise.

Theo didn't bother dusting himself off, but without a word of thanks rapidly mounted his Moulton and raced to the front of what he evidently imagined to be his battalion, no doubt expecting me to catch him up. He was indeed 'leading', the look of satisfaction on his face alternating with frequent scowls at the rolling Bill as well as at a young girl on a bicycle with stabilisers whom he took to be a usurper.

I won't go into the details of the route he chose, except to observe that we crisscrossed Soho more times than seemed necessary. At one point he grotesquely requested that I quickly run into a shop for something unmentionable. That I did so speaks to my Samaritan qualities and training. In fact this was his reason entire for 'inviting' me to CM, and it transpires, for attending Mass in the first place: he had been banned from that particular establishment after an argument involving PVC, and the police presence he abjured in fact ensured that whatever fantasy he had constructed involving his purchase, my stern involvement, and figures of authority would be the current which fully charged his... batteries. Thus was this Critical Mass his ultimate turn-on.

In fact other participants of that slow-moving parade later concluded this was one of the most friendly and relaxing masses in recent memory, a happy circumstance lost on Theodore, whose labyrinthine libido was of more urgent concern than "reclaiming the streets".

Returning home that night I reflected on my involvement with this perplexing man. As the old train rocked me in and out of sleep, as usual I reached no conclusions, but did attain that dreamlike state in which one cannot find answers, but can, for a time, find peace.