On . . . getting back on the bike
There’s a man round my way learning to ride the unicycle. He’s kind of hard to miss. The first time I observed him from the bus stop as he progressed unsteadily down the path. He rode a little, fell off, got back on again and repeated this unholy trinity until he wobbled out of sight. I learned something watching him that day. It’s pretty much impossible to look cool or dignified while falling off a unicycle.
I didn’t expect to see Unicycle Man again. He seemed an odd sight, like an escaped circus animal ambling around the capital’s north inner city trying to get his bearings. I thought the humiliation of falling and getting up again and falling (repeat to fade) in front of the general public might have put him off. I thought he’d be entirely justified in giving up this unicycle lark as a bad job. But then a week later, walking along with my daughters, I saw him again. Still falling off.
“Where is that man’s other wheel?” said one daughter. “Can I have a go of that?” said the other.
I decided Unicycle Man was good for the area. He cheered the place up a bit. When he teetered past us a brass band played a jaunty tune in my head.
John Foss is famous in the unicycling world. He says that learning to ride a unicycle is 60 per cent determination, 35 per cent persistence and five per cent sense of balance. Not knowing much by way of unicycling statistics, I’d have put “sense of balance” much higher, but it turns out anybody can unicycle, anybody who is willing to stick at it that is.
I’ve never been good when it comes to sticking at things. I’m great at the beginning. Practising guitar with gusto, or doing yoga in my kitchen at all hours or making calligraphic flourishes in a special notebook.
And then inevitably the enthusiasm wanes. The humour goes off me. A string on the guitar breaks and the instrument ends up taunting me from the corner. The yoga mat gathers dust instead of downward dogs under the stairs. I come across the battered calligraphy pens under the sideboard, no longer fit for flourishing anything other than the bin.
Unicycle Man is someone who knows how to stick at things. I run through Fairview Park these damp mornings and sometimes I see him there on the basketball court. Up and down the court he goes, falling off noticeably less than when I first saw him a few months ago. Falling but falling better as Beckett didn’t say, a living breathing lesson in tenacity. And he reminds me to think about the fact that here I am, still running, which is a surprise. Watching him, it occurs to me that for once in my life I have stuck at something.