- Bicycle Culture by Design: Promoting Cycling with Orange - And a Literary Review

Here's a strange advert from the French telecommunications company Orange for the British market. I don't know what it's all about but hey, there's a bike in it. And, to be frank, I'm more comfortable with ghost bikes riding around at night than I am with ghost cars. Yes, I've read Steven King's Christine, which probably explains it.

But this advert reminded me a book that I finished recently, one that was recommended to be by a reader. There are not THAT many books wherein the bicycle plays a feature role, but 'The Third Policeman' by Flann O'Brien is one of them.

What an extraordinary read, from a literary point of view. So very original. Even Anthony Burgess said of it; "If we don't cherish the work of Flann O'Brien we are stupid fools who don't deserve to have great men." Not a bad plug for the book.

Add to all that the fact the bicycle are everywhere. Even weekend cyclists will appreciate the prose about the bicycle. "How can I convey the perfection of my comfort on the bicycle, the completeness of my union with her, the sweet responses she gave me at every particle of her frame? I felt that I had known her for many years and that she had known her for many years and that she had known me and that we understood each other utterly.

How desirable her seat was, how charming the invitation of her slim encircling handle-arms, how unaccountably competent her pump resting warmly against her rear thigh!"

Most of the book takes place in a strange parish patrolled by three policemen and where everyone rides their bicycles. It takes place in the days when people did so, in the early part of the last century. "Last year we had sixty-nine cases of no lights and four stolen. this year we have eighty-two cases of no lights, thirtenn cases of riding on the footpath and four stolen. There was one case of wanton damage to a three-speed gear. Before the year is out there is certain to be a pump stolen, a very depraved and despicable manifestation of criminality and a blot on the country.

Five years ago we had a case of loose handlebars. Now there is a rarity for you."

A shocking development. And no, it wasn't me wantonly damaged that superfluous three-speed...

"[...]they were holding a meeting about the question of bicycles.'I do not believe in the three-speed gear at all,' the Sergeant was saying, 'it is a new-fangled instrument, it crucifies the legs, the half of the accidents are due to it.''It is a power to the hills,' said Gilhaney, 'as good as a second pair of pins or a diminutive petrol motor.''It is a hard thing to tune,' said the Sergeant.[...]'Do you hold with rat-trap pedals?' asked Gilhaney.'If rat-trap pedals were universal it would be the end of bicycles, the people would die like flies.'

'Why are they not made prohibitive, I said, or made specialities like arsenic when you would have to buy them at a chemist's shop and sign a little book and look like a responsible personality?'

Indeed, indeed. Nonsense gear. There is also the ongoing theme in the book about the consquences of spending too much time on a bicycle, as many people in the parish do... 'The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles.'I let go a gasp of astonishment that made a sound in the air like a bad puncture.'And you would be flabbergasted at the number of bicycles that are half-human almost half-man, half-partaking of humanity.'

'When a man lets things go so far that he is half or more than half a bicycle, you will not see so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot on kerbstones.'

A pleasure to read and I can recommend it for any bicycle lover. Available, like most things in the known universe, at Amazon.

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