18 years ago, in the first few months of 2004, our good friends Steve and Clare relocated to Melbourne Australia, her home town. I had worked with Steve on various projects for much of the previous decade. We had been employed at the same place since the autumn of 2001. He had recommended me for some contract work there, and an initial 10-day placement grew into three years of well-paid consultancy. I will always be grateful for that.
Our friends were leaving the UK sooner than they had originally planned. They would probably have moved to Australia at some point, a year or two later maybe. They brought things forward because they were expecting their first child, in May 2004. Vague, future plans for moving back to Melbourne became concrete, immediate plans to get back at least two months before the due date.
In the middle of February my wife and I hosted a farewell party for them. In the 30 months since our marriage in 2001, my wife had had four miscarriages. Life goes on. We had friends with young children and friends who were pregnant. These things can’t be avoided. We were happy that Steve and Clare were into the third trimester of a healthy pregnancy. Everything would work out fine. Their first daughter was born, as expected, in May.
They were taking most of their things with them to Australia. I had already learnt from an old schoolfriend that it’s much more expensive to send freight by ship to Australia than to bring it back to the UK. The cargo ships heading to the other side of the world are usually full. They are comparatively empty for their return journeys. Removal companies reflect this in the prices that they charge. One of the items that Steve was not taking to Melbourne was his bike, and he offered it to me.
On the afternoon of the party, Steve and Clare travelled, with the bike, on the Overground to Barnes station, not too far way. My wife and I drove Clare back to ours, and Steve cycled. The bike was kitted out better than any I had ever used: panniers, lights, pump, speedometer, properly secure D-Locks (not those flimsy little things that I had on my bike at college), water bottles, more gears than I would ever use.
I am happy to report that I am still in possession of the bike, and it is still road-worthy. I have begun riding it again now that the days are longer, and we appear to be past the worst of the winter weather. There was a slow puncture on the front wheel. For the last 10 days I have been pumping it up before every journey. Today I took it to the local repair shop and they fixed it for me. It was well worth the fee (£15). I cycled off to Friday night football relieved that I would not have to pump up the tyre for my return journey, like last week. I cycled home more sedately: I strained a thigh muscle early in the game and will be out of action for at least another week.
18 years on, I still regard the bike as being on loan. If Steve wants it, he can have it back. It has served me well. It came into our lives the same month that my wife became pregnant for the fifth time, and that pregnancy went to term. Our son was born in November 2004. He’s now old enough, and big enough, to ride the borrowed bike himself.