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Bykeman’s journey
- A prince among hillocks
Graeme Garvey
...home once more, he searches for a meaning to the universe, with stimulants which he has kept handy.

First sighting of Bykeman – deep in the Pennines.
The sun shines benignly on this early summer’s day. Looking westwards, the road slopes down from the hills. Tarmac shimmers in the heat. Far, far away, we see a speck. This speck will grow into him, Bykeman, before shrinking down to nothingness.
Soonly speck grows into man! Well, man and bike. Rapid indeed is the progress. Some power is pushing through those pedals, driving the machine to its absolute limit.

In not much more time than it took the universe to pop its cosmic cork, his posture starts to emerge. Hunched forward, low. Then his features, focused and determined. [This is where I suppose I ought to describe him for you but we each have our own picture of what a hero should look like, don’t we? And Bykeman is a hero – of sorts. Why should I spoil your ideal by my description?]

On such a quiet, peaceful day, little or no outside sound intrudes, so that the whir of wheel and clicking of chain move into our ears as he nears. Over the closing yards, it’s all about velocity and co-ordinated effort as, hands clamping the handlebars, his knees work like twin pistons pushing to the limit.
In a blur of controlled activity, Bykeman flashes by, shadow in hot pursuit. For a time he can still be heard, as he diminishes, while the process is reversed. Shrinkling back into that speck.
Bykeman has passed by. We’ve sighted our hero.
Major events in this most momentous day:-
1) Bykeman questions his health.
2) He hunts for a job.
3) He launches himself on an entire poetry group.
4) At home once more, he searches for a meaning to the universe, with stimulants which he has kept handy.

Stage 1 – Beginning at the beginning.
Waking up. Invasion by radio can trigger it. Or, more traditionally, birdsong. A jarring alarm might summons a sleeper from the land of dreams. It can often be the fractious, bawling babe who performs the same trick. For Bykeman, it was just that it was time to no longer be asleep.
His eyes had quickly taken in the scene and checked to see if the coast was clear. Indeed it was and this should not surprise the reader since all of Bykeman’s demons were inside his head. He made sure, all the same. There was plenty of light powering through his curtains from the strengthening sun. Early June, and summer had more or less made it to the eastern Pennines. Weeks of mind-numbingly depressing rain had somehow failed to wash away the inhabitants of Ridge Terrace. The said rain had sulkily quit the scene, vowing to return with a vengeance. For today, though, all was sunshine and joy.

What he had consumed last night needed clearing from mind and body. The bathroom was the place to be, so he rolled out of bed and made his way there, gently. Whoever invented the mirror had a cruel sense of humour. A close-up with yourself only serves to depress in most cases. It did in this one. Mid thirties : half way there! It would all be downhill from now on in the worst of senses. Unless… Bykeman wasn’t quite done for yet. Something heroic in him stirred, or perhaps he just wanted the lav.

Anyway, within ten minutes he was easing himself and his racing bike through the kitchen doorway. There was a beauty and freshness to the day which enticed him and soon he was on his way up Wainstalls Hill, pumping iron, and rubber, and nylon, and plastic. He loved the physical demands of cycling. It was clean, honest exercise and it had made him fitter than he had probably ever been. Those first weeks when he had taken up bikeriding in earnest had just about killed him – he ached all over after one particularly adventurous foray to Manchester and back. His wife had had to peel him off his byke and virtually unravel him.

Cue Conversation:- Long-suffering wife providing the required tender loving care, numerous sympathetic oh dears and the odd can I run you a bath? Suffering husband alternating cusses with moans...

He persevered, though, with his fitness programme and if this were a film we could have some brief action scenes with suitably action-sceney music indicating Commitment, Toil and Progress. Thankfully, it’s not so we can skip all that and press on with the story.
Before too long he had improved his cycling prowess to the point where he was, if not yet King of the Mountains, certainly a prince among hillocks. Where was he going at such a speed? From what was he fleeing? What was he thinking as he raced? Time and space, these are indeed the issues in this tale of Bykeman. Time and space…oh, and existence, of course. But surely not such weighty matter before we’ve at least allowed him to have some breakfast? We can check on him soon. He should be fine.

Stage 2 - Oh Doctor, am I in trouble?
The couch supported a recumbant man. Sunbeams, filtering through the open kitchen door, fell across the resting figure and illuminated the anxiety etched on his face. On the mantelshelf fashioned by his own hand in brighter times, a clock ticked out each hurrying second before it faded into oblivion.

This was a dying man and an onlooker always must feel an arrowshaft of guilt when intruding on a fellow human’s death throes. How long had he been dying? Impossible to tell a first glance. On closer inspection it would appear to be something like thirty five years. He may well have been cycling like a maniac a couple of hours before but now the sick man in him had regained control, confronting him with visions of his mortality. He felt so bad. He had to shut his eyes tight to lessen the rage of his headache. It had him in its vice and was in no hurry to let go. It was a brain tumour, of that Bykeman was almost certain. Would he be well enough to make it to the surgery? Not in his present state. They would have to come and collect his remains for the postmortem that would at least prove him right in his gloomy prognosis. Scant consolation.

Bravely and against all the odds he marshalled his waning powers, clambered off the settee and gingerly set off for the surgery. He would walk. Minimal activity was necessary. He had to husband his remaining resources.

The staggering shuffle through the village attracted no attention whatsoever. Yorkshire folk, it is believed, could turn an indifferent eye away from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse if they didn’t recognise the horses. Bykeman made it to Westdale Surgery unmolested by prying questioners and ghosted past reception into the waiting room.

If this were another story, it would be worth commenting on the bizarre choice of magazines that invarably adorn the dreaded central table in waiting rooms up and down the land. Even more interesting might be a sweeping survey of the waiting patients. We could play ‘guess the illness’ – just like patients do but our story has moved on and we must hurry to catch up. Bykeman is closing the door behind him, ready to bravely hear the worst from his doctor.
Doctor Patel began with a good-natured, "Ah, hello again. How are you?" It was a solid, doctorly start.
"Erm, not very good I’m afraid," the dying man answered bravely.
This, of course, left the way open for the doctor’s, "Sorry to hear that. What’s the matter?"
And the floodgates opened. "Well I’ve got these massive, throbbing pains in my head. It’s like something’s trying to drag my brain out through my eyes."
"Oh dear," Patel said, trying to quickly jam shut the floodgates. "Tell me, how long have you had the pain and where exactly is it?"
This returned the conversation to the autopilot of surgerytalk, just when Bykeman was about to launch into a lengthy, chunnering grumble of the sort intended to even break hearts of stone. Obediently, he gave the details.
Patel was a skilled practitioner and it was not all that long before he had more or less persuaded his patient that he probably did not have a brain tumour. It was no more likely, he felt, than the stomach cancer Bykeman had feared he had a couple of months back. Or the possible anaemia. He was sure tests would, once again, prove negative. Grudgingly, but brightening, his patient concurred, then left for home.

Stage 3 – It’s a good job.
Someone a long time ago in a land far away said that if you couldn’t find a job, you should get on your bike to go and find one. Bykeman, complying with this sage advice, cycled into Broadfield for yet another interview. The day had begun to cloud over, aptly matching his mood, as he wove his way through the post-lunch traffic. Despair hovered over him, lurking in the noxious exhaust fumes and it took a mighty act of will for him to continue. Well, you can only take so many knock-backs can’t you?

Today’s failure was ordained by destiny. Bykeman it seemed was fated never to be a road sweeper. The omens were certainly not good. When he arrived at the Council Offices, he couldn’t find anywhere to leave his bike. Apparently visitors on foot or with cars were expected but someone on a bike threw their delicately balanced sensibilities. He eventually decided to chain it to another bike in the employees’ area. Roadsweeping might well be a necessary job in a modern society and goodness knows he needed some physical work to keep him occupied. Despite all that, he already felt beaten.

He knew he couldn’t sustain sufficient enthusiasm long enough to con them and just when the chap from Broadfield Council wanted him to wax lyrical about his commitment to cleansing the town’s roads of debris, he found himself sadly lacking in that very department. Mr Sowden, as well as suffering from an unimpressive name, was small, round and saddled with the view that he was somebody. Very quickly he seemed to have formed a second view, this being that Bykeman was not his man. How to politely get rid?
Sowden’s thoughts – but not very deep ones.
Ey-up, what have we here then? This lad doesn’t really seem interested. He’s strong enough, all right but I think he’s either off his rocker or taking the mick out of me. If I just need someone to handle a brush, why can’t they just send me someone who’s as daft as one?
Bykeman’s thoughts – not his deepest, either.
Grrreat. How the hell am I going to persuade this geezer I give a stuff about his lousy roads? What a prat he looks. Typical, jumped-up, Yorkshire ‘businessman’. I’ll give it a shot but he’s so boring I’m drifting off to sleep in the middle of his yatter. Hope he hasn’t spotted.

Their eyes met as their thoughts and paths crossed for the only time in this run-through of the universe and they both knew the game was up. The pleasantries were dispatched quite quickly and Sowden allowed him to escape, rejected, with the consolation that it had been a ‘very competitive field’.

As he cycled back home, all of Bykeman’s other recent failures ganged up against him…
Like when he tried to become a toilet cleaner in Broadfield. He had quickly guessed it was a fix by the way they kept calling the other interviewee by his first name. They obviously already had the person they wanted lined up. The charade of an interview was to show they’d rigged it fair and square. The clincher for him was when he failed the ‘vacuum cleaner test’.
If you are ever interviewing would-be lavatory attendants and need an excuse to fob somebody off, try this wheeze. Ask them, straight-faced, mind you, what is the first thing they must do when they wish to vac the floor. They are bound to say something sensible like ‘plug it in’ and you’ve got them. Of course, the right answer is ‘check the fuse’! Works every time. It certainly scuppered Bykeman’s chances.
Like when he went for a job at a Laser Gun gamecenter. Imagine how pleased he felt to be turned down for the job and yet be invited on a night out to meet the staff all the same.
Like the time (a corker, this one) when he was actually offered a cleaning job before they then changed their minds and withdrew the offer.
Like the time he went for a job as a general assistant in a hotel and was told he wasn’t quite what they were looking for. Quite? Quite.

Cycling uphill, away from town, he vented his anger on the pedals. What a shame that such magnificent scenery; plunging valleys, climbing hills should be relegated to becoming just the backdrop to his fury. But it wasn’t fair and the whole world knew it if it was going to be honest with itself. He could do any of those jobs with his eyes shut. Well…perhaps not the Laser Gun thingy. If he didn’t land a job soon, he felt, his head truly would burst. On he pedalled, on, onwards, devouring the road, cursing the handlebars, hating the front wheel for its cyclic predictability.
[When you think how important the invention of the wheel was to human development, it is slightly surprising how long it took for someone to think of putting a couple of them in line, so inventing the bicycle. The wheel has graced civilisation for thousands of years, the bike for a hundred. The bike has a beauty, a power and most importantly a cleanness because it utilises nature and harmonises with it at one and the same time. Unlike a car, it does not need an exhaust, produces no poisons, leaves no trace behind. It also, always, relies on the rider’s balance to function. This is where it harmonises with nature.]

It would be neat, if unfortunate, were Bykeman to have crashed into a ditch after this last section in praise of the bicycle. Neat, but since it didn’t happen that way, we’ll just have to allow our hero to race on unscathed. There is no doubt, either, that the productive work necessary for riding his bike, eventually, led to his rage easing. By the time he had arrived home, he was able to put yet another frustrating experience into some sort of context but he still remained angry at two things and in the following size and order;
1 - The entire universe
2 - Broadfield Council.

As he poured himself a cool glass of milk, he confided to the fridge what a tosser Sowden was. One of the cats, Euclid, was told outright how the Council Offices were a naffer version of Cell Block H and, warming to his task, he told the whole living room some unpleasant details about Mr Sowden, many of which would have been impossible to prove without expert medical knowledge and a minute physical investigation.

Not feeling quite so cross with the universe now, he decided it was only fair on it to promote Broadfield Council to Number One. He then made his way upstairs towards the computer room. Poetry Evening was only a few hours away and he hadn’t finished his poem. This was the time of day when he ‘tidied up’ his late night workings. He grafted solidly for…an hour? Who knows how long? He didn’t. Time ceases to count when you are totally absorbed in something. The ideas which had flowed from brain via pencil onto paper, late the previous night, were now keyed onto his screen.

These ideas had been swimming in the grey pond of his brain for some little while before he had fished them out last night. He’d landed them in a hurry, scribbling determinedly, lest any escape back into that protozoic soup to be lost, perhaps forever. They apparently liked the order in which he had landed them and didn’t seem keen on being moved around now. They had got on famously since first meeting, inseparable, friends for life. Bykeman persisted, however. The artist’s will finally prevailed and eventually he was able to press the ‘print’ button. He smiled, his work to see and he smiled, too, at the thought of how his poem would go down that evening in the pub. His poetry was not for the faint-hearted.

© Graeme Garvey July 2002
email:Graeme Garvey

Previously by GG
The Yorkshire Dales

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