I have a nice handbuilt touring bike. When I bought it nearly ten years ago with a tax rebate, I paid more for it (even in absolute cash terms) than the car I now drive. Unlike my car, it has probably paid for itself, mainly by getting me around London for several years, when I lived in The Smoke. I still can’t believe that I used to ride that thing flat-out through the pre-Livingstone capital and that I remain in possession all of my limbs. Bicycles either take fifty years off your life in an accident or put five on by conditioning your heart and lungs. I don’t ride it much now and have let it fall into a terrible state. Puzzlingly, I still seem to have the quads of a small horse and ugly knees to match.

This morning I had an important letter to collect from the sorting office (a letter the postman had actually tried and failed to deliver while I was in yesterday). I decided, grudgingly, not to go to the sorting office early, but to stick to my usual exercise routine, jump on my bike and cycle over there, to arrive just before they close the doors, then go on a bicycle tour with the letter in safely my rucksack.

I arrived over ten minutes before the sorting office was advertised to close, but three minutes after they had decided to lock the entry gates (a new policy) and was turned away. (A twentysomething girl who arrived after me was in the process of fluttering her way past the leery blokes manning the gate in as I gave up pleading and left.) As I got back onto my bike to return home I found I had a flat. The valve on my inner tube was buggered and there was nothing I could do with my pliers to fix it. In my rigid-soled cycling shoes I walked like a duck to the nearest cycle shop, which (three weeks before Christmas) couldn’t help me because it was staffed by one man. At the next cycle shop they agreed to replace the tube.

When I returned, no longer dressed head-to-toe in spray-on lycra, but wearing a cardigan and jeans, I couldn’t get the man behind the counter to give me my bike back. He didn’t recognize me.