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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review August 8, 2006 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5766

A summer rhapsody for a pedal-bike

By Paul Johnson


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Nothing separates men from women more significantly than riding a bicycle. Whenever I see a man on a bike in London, he is invariably breaking the law: riding on the pavement, whizzing through a red light, pedaling arrogantly along our one-way street in the forbidden direction.


I have never seen a woman doing any of these things. Their cycling is strictly utilitarian, economical, discreet, at modest speeds and on machines which have no element of display. What does this tell us about the sexes? Well, it certainly makes me revert again to my technological vision of the future, in which men have been eliminated, their prime function taken over by perpetual sperm-banks, and with selection procedures ruling out male babies. This would be a world with minimal crime and no wars, no sex in the traditional sense (what a relief) and in which it would be possible to ban alcohol, drug-taking and professional sport.


I am thinking of buying a bike, my walking-radius now being down to three miles. I have two already. One is an Austrian folding bike, called a Putsch, I think; the other is a big, old-fashioned Hercules, very plain and strong, specially made in the 1970s for heavy-duty service in Africa. Neither is in serviceable condition, and I do not fancy going to all the trouble of getting them repaired when the likelihood of my using them often is remote.


What I really want is a bike that I can pedal but which also has a small electric motor to get me up the steep hills of west Somerset. Many years ago I had a petrol-driven tricycle which had this dual character and I travelled many hundreds of miles on it, not uncomfortably. But it was stolen and proved impossible to replace. When I last inquired about an electric bike I was shown a clumsy-looking machine which was too heavy to lift and stunningly expensive. That was some years ago and it may be that things have got better. I say this because we have just acquired a car which is fuelled by petrol but driven by an electric motor. It is called a bisexual. No: that is the wrong word — a hybrid. It is exempt from the London congestion charge as being 'socially moral'. It does 50 miles to the gallon and is very quiet. It also has superb air-conditioning, a huge advantage in this horrid hot weather, and scores of advanced gadgets. Those in the know say it is the first really successful electric car and everyone will have them soon. So I am encouraged to believe a successful electric bike cannot be far behind.


However, one should remember that the history of the bicycle is long and bumpy. The first, in wood, was created in 1818. The inventor had a comic-opera name, Baron Karl de Drais de Sauerbrun, and his machine was called a draisienne. It did not catch on. The proper bike did not take shape until the 1870s. But by 1882 it was fashionable enough to make an appearance in Gilbert's lyrics for Iolanthe:

In your shirt and your socks
(The black silk with gold clocks)
Crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle.


The quarter century between 1890 and the first world war was the golden age of the bike. Oh, to see Henry James making his stately progress down the Sussex lanes, or going to call on Conrad. Or George Bernard Shaw out for a 'spin' with George Moore, or H.G. Wells pedalling industriously to keep up with the young Rebecca West.


('I was a real thruster on a pedal-bike,' she told me many decades later.)


Mr Gladstone, I suspect, was a little too old to take to the bike, but Lord Salisbury tried it and his nephew A.J. Balfour was often on one when he was prime minister. It was one of the things he held against Lord Curzon, whom he prevented from becoming prime minister when Bonar Law died; 'George is too grand ever to have been on a bicycle.' Zola thought of writing a novel about the social consequences of the bicycle but never got round to it, though a photograph survives showing him about to mount one, dressed in what looks like a Gallic version of 1890s golfing kit.


Yet, plainly, bicycles and morality are not wholly unconnected, since a bike is something which enables you to move by your own physical efforts, without dependence on animals, flunkeys or minerals. Next to walking it is the most moral form of transport, symbolising independence, unselfishness and self-reliance. Hence Norman Tebbit's famous Thatcherite rallying cry to the unemployed, 'On yer bike!' and the old Chilean proverb, beloved of General Pinochet, 'El socialismo puede llegar sólo en bicicleta.'


For me, the second half of the 1930s was the age of the bicycle. I put up with hand-me-downs from my older brother and sister until the glorious moment when, thanks to the munificence of a godfather, I actually acquired a brand-new Raleigh, all to myself. Nothing I have ever owned has given me one quarter of the pleasure of that sparkling machine, with its three gears, light and dynamo, and its graceful, tingling carriage in all weathers. It gave me a freedom I had never before dreamed of possessing and which, when I think deeply about it, I have never really enjoyed since.


I ranged over the Five Towns, where we lived in Arnold Bennett-like cosiness, and went out to draw and paint local churches with my father, who gave me lessons in architectural draughtsmanship (he had a Raleigh too). Together with my sturdy friend Richard, the doctor's son, I went on all-day excursions across north Staffordshire and into Derbyshire and Cheshire, across Biddulph Moor, to Leek and Macclesfield, to the little towns I call the Gaskell Country of Cranford, to the Dove Valley and the Peak District (a two-day trip, that), to weird hills called the Roaches and Cloud End and ancient places with names like Uttoxeter. We had satchels with our grub: sandwiches of potted meat or anchovy paste, lettuce and tomato with slivers of gherkin, or buns with triangles of processed cheese (then a novelty) wrapped in silver paper. How good such edibles tasted, eaten with voracious relish sitting on a farm gate by the side of the road, the silver wheels of our bikes spinning idly on the grass, reflecting the sunshine. We had, if we were lucky, Tizer ('the Appetiser') or dandelion-and-burdock to drink — Coca-Cola was unheard of then where we lived — and as an extra treat a Mars Bar (new from America in 1936) or Milky Way (England's answer in 1937).


All was not idyllic, of course. There were flat tyres to contend with, even punctures, and here I must pose a question. Why do bicycles inspire jokes in literary circles and showbiz? Why, for instance, did Kingsley Amis write, in 'A Bookshop Idyll',

Should poets bicycle-pump the human heart
Or squash it flat?


Auden, too, was one for bicycle cracks ('Tomorrow the bicycle races ...but today the struggle', etc) as were Tommy Trinder, Arthur Askey and the ITMA team. Another comedian, Billy Connolly, used to say, 'Marriage is a wonderful invention. But then again, so is a bicycle repair kit.' Had he ever used one? Not so easy is my recollection. But I have an itch to get on my bike again, all the same. It is, when all is said, the most ingenious of useful mechanical inventions, the easiest to use — perfect for simpletons like me — and the least harmful. Impossible to sin with a bike; anyway, mortally.

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Eminent British historian and author Paul Johnson's latest book is "American Presidents Eminent Lives Boxed Set: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant". Comment by clicking here.



Previously:

08/03/06: Why is there no workable philosophy of music?
07/11/06: Historically speaking, energy crisis is America's opportunity
07/06/06: The misleading dimensions of persons and lives
06/06/06: First editions are not gold
05/23/06: A downright ugly man need never despair of attracting women, even pretty ones
04/25/06: Was Washington right about political parties?
04/12/06: Let's Have More Babies!
04/05/06: For the love of trains
03/29/06: Lincoln and the Compensation Culture
03/22/06: Bottle-beauties and the globalised blond beast
03/15/06: Europe's utopian hangover
03/08/06: Kindly write on only one side of the paper
02/28/06: Creators versus critics
02/21/06: The Rhino Principle

© 2006, Paul Johnson

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