There's not much room down here, what with my overflowing IN and OUT trays which form a closed loop of increasingly shrill correspondence, crates of oranges and limes to ward off scurvy, a garden growing the mushrooms that comprise my dinner most nights, and a TV that hums and crackles but refuses to show anything except teletext results of cricket matches and celebrity horoscopes. Nevertheless I've managed to squeeze my bicycle into this impossibly small space. Whenever my knotted muscles start baying I prop its axles up onto stacks of old editions of the Highway Code and pump my legs mile after mile at implausible speeds. At times like this I imagine I'm racing beneath the blistering skin of the crazy world above through tunnels dug in ancient times by wise mole people who knew that it was best to avoid the mad dogs and Englishmen that danced above their dirt ceiling.
I race along these passages, expertly navigating in the cool dark reasonable earth, laughing at the stalactites and stalagmites, until I get tired or the bike slips off the piles of venerable Codes. Sometimes I don't stop pedaling in time and lurch forward into the mushroom garden, my front tyre digging up more pallid nutrition, crashing into the soft insulation of the Fourth Estate. For days afterwards I'll be extracting slivers of the Daily Mail or Evening Standard or yes, even Observer from my long Moses beard. I weave them together to try and make a different, new, transendent sense of it all, but it never seems to work.
I miss fresh air and horizons. Late at night, or what I guess to be night (my internal clock has gone all wonky so I get it wrong sometimes), I pop my head out to drink in the stars and soothe my self-inflicted claustrophobia. I never venture any further than the lip of this otherwise closed mouth because my head would make a fine trophy, after it's been shaved of its hermit's mask. I dust off my specially camouflaged cycling helmet for these missions up top; it probably wouldn't offer any real protection, but it does make me feel better. Off in the distance I know there are others just like me because I can hear them heaving in great lungfuls of the same air and smell the stale sweat of their own spinning, evaporating from their pent-up bodies. We don't attempt to communicate. We fill up on unregurgitated oxygen then hunker back down, waiting.
The pundits and the great motormouths are babbling armies without end.
When I was a young man I was too proud to go to ground like this and let others fight my battles. I sharpened my bar ends and aimed my shiny mount into the heart of the fray, propelled by righteous adrenalin. I happily collected scars and felt they were trophies. Then one day I was listening to radio chat-show caller complain that bicyclists don't pay 'road tax' – or maybe it was something to do with lycra louts, the alliteration of which seemed to delight him as a mobile does an infant – and I went totally catatonic. Nothing could snap me out of it. I'm told I stayed that way for weeks, in the same slightly crouched position, mouth agape, eyes blank, hands poised as if to ward off a blow. My wife refused to have me hospitalised, but instead gently settled me into the quietest room in the house, fed and watered me, and hoped for the best.
I don't remember any of it of course. But when I awoke from the trance or whatever it was I was a changed man, off the front lines for good. Shell shock. The slightest mention of harmonization with EU law caused me to flinch involuntarily, though I continued to circle the issues like a moth does a flame. Only by retreating into my 'quiet room' could I stomach the conflict. Eventually I dug the bunker.
By the time you
read this things should be back to normal, or as normal as things get.
Unless we truly are entering the dark ages, the eye of the storm will
have moved elsewhere for another year. I'll be out blinking in the watery
sunlight, enjoying my freedom once again. I'll have stripped the bunker
and made a bonfire of its hateful lining. And the smoke will drift away.