I was 14 when I asked my father if I could take a cycling proficiency test, he told me that it was better that I was never on the road. His answer was a resounding ‘no’. I think that he is largely to blame for the events that occurred. The vodka tonics played no part in the accident. NO PART.
Bicycles are a way of life for the Dutch. It is the national mode of transport. There are more bikes than people (17 million to be precise) and so it was inevitable that, at some point, I would have to ride a bike. I considered the English take on bicycles and really, in England, you are a certain type of person who rides a bike. You are usually kitted out head-to-toe neon lycra (with no regard to your body type), an aerodynamic helmet and an obligatory smug smile on your face.
I think we can agree that there is not so much to smile about here. The Dutch are ever-so-slightly more cool customers when it comes to the issue of bikes.
Okay, so they don’t all look like this guy but bikes are actually more of a lifestyle choice for them. They see them as not a weight-management device but as a means of getting from A to B. They use them to transport groceries, children, sinks, luggage. There is nothing that the Dutch will not consider transporting on the back/front/side of their bikes.
The last time that I rode a bike was when I was 9 years old and I am certain that the stabilisers were still on and it had pink ribbons trailing from the handle bars. Three months in the Netherlands, it was time for me to get back on that bike. Well, not actually THAT bike. That would be ridiculous. But even getting on that bike with the stabilisers and the pink ribbons would have been less humiliating than the series of events that were about to follow.
One unsuspecting evening, about 9pm, my friend Eric offered me the chance to ride on his bicycle. Okay, so he didn’t offer, more that I begged and pleaded with him for an hour and then, like a weary parent, he gave in to shut me up. Eric is about 8 inches taller than me so when I sat on his bike, I couldn’t reach the floor. This should have served as a warning sign to me but, as we all know, after 2 vodka and tonics, Bravado and his friend Stupidity become your allies. The wind was blowing through my hair as the bike smoothly made its way through the street – the canal to the right of me and a quaint row of shops to the left of me. It was really picturesque. The sun was setting, the air was mild and I was gliding like a swan. Who needs stabilisers, I thought.
In the distance, I could hear Eric calling my name….”Sam! Wait for us! Stop!” So I did. No longer was the canal to the right of me. To the right of me was the cold, hard pavement. To the left, the sky. I had ineveitably fallen off. Fast forward – after a few tears, some lost dignity and a cup of chips for the brave soldier (that’s me by the way) – I was home in bed. Turns out, I did need stabilisers.
One week passed and common sense forced me to visit a doctor as a colleague had pointed out that I might have punctured a lung and could be unwittingly inducing a slow, painful death upon myself. I wasn’t totally sure of her medical expertise but I thought it best not to take any chances. The doctor sent me to get an x-ray.
The x-ray centre was weirdly situated off a junction on the motorway. I arrived and was seen to quickly. Unfortunately, as this centre was out of town and not everyone spoke English, there was about to be some communication issues. The radiographer came out of his room and called my name. He was pretty easy on the eye to say the least. He was probably about my age (21), tall, tanned and honey-haired. This rib injury was beginning to have its perks.
So, Doctor Honey Hair (I don’t know if radiographers are actually doctors but for the purpose of this, he is) ushered me into his room and motioned me to remove my top as he went out of the room to get something. This instruction did not seem strange to me – it was only natural, I had pain in my ribs and so he needed to x-ray the area. So I remove my jacket, tee shirt and bra without giving it a second thought and stand in the centre of the x-ray room in just my jeans and Ugg boots. What an image of horror. Probably not doing anything for the sale of Uggs. Or jeans.
Doctor Honey Hair comes back in the room holding some forms and upon seeing me and my naked chest, makes a strange face. I’ve seen that reaction before. We both look at each other for a few moments, him wide-eyed, me blinking naively, wondering when the x-ray was actually going to happen. In his best English, he tells me that we need to fill out some forms first and the x-ray will come later. Oh no, he was not actually motioning me to take my clothes off, he was motioning me to sit down. SHIT! Now, being British, I was not about to lose face in this situation. I calmly informed him that I was ready to fill out the paperwork and promptly removed a pen from my bag and sat down. This is how it happens in England, I said. We usually don’t even wear trousers for x-rays.
He asks me a few questions. Do you have a metal plate in your head? I told him no but I could see that he was thinking that I probably should have. He asks if I am pregnant. My reaction to situations that are embarrassing or uncomfortable is to make jokes. Terrible, badly-timed, inappropriate jokes. So, when he asks, ‘are you pregnant?’ I say, ‘not yet Doctor’ and give him a wink. A WINK? I don’t know how this had happened. What was I thinking? My breasts and the facts were bare for all to see. I had taken my top off and now I was trying to flirt with the Doctor who was starting to look a lot younger (and more scared) suddenly. I was probably going to prison.
I do my best to fill in the remainder of the paperwork in silence. He picked up the phone and mumbles something into the receiver and then a few moments later a nurse came in. She stayed in the room for the remainder of the process. He had probably told her that I was dangerous. I felt like I was in some sort of episode of ‘carry on x-raying’. I was Barbara Windsor.
I had my x-ray on a Friday afternoon, 15 minutes before they were about to close for the weekend. Now, I would like to think that I made Doctor Honey Hair’s weekend a little better. He got to see some boobs on a Friday afternoon. More realistically though, that was probably the day he decided to leave the profession.