It seemed fitting, therefore, to use this crumbling, outdated blog (which flails about, trying desperately to cling on to readers) to write a piece about me overcoming one of the biggest (and most ridiculous) problems I've had to face.
They say getting older is inexplicably linked to getting wiser, and there's been several things lately that I wish I could impart to my younger, terrified self. Glasses being so cool that people who don't need them would don them being among the first.
But something else that's followed me around for years had been an even bigger problem in my youth, and last weekend I was able to put it to rest, not peacefully, but violently, hitting the problem on the head repeatedly and kicking it a bit. It was very cathartic.
Something that always held me back was that I never learned to ride a bike. Well, that's not quite true. I did learn - Mum and Dad both helped me understand the theory behind how bikes stayed up, and on several summers, autumns and springs I tried in vain to get the knack of it. Eventually, though, I gave up.
I'm under no illusion that I'm a quitter. My attitude is that if it's tough, bail, protect yourself, if it's your health, your wealth, your dignity, just get out there. If a fight kicks off, I'll scurry away and hide under a pile of coats; if something becomes difficult, I shift the blame, and if I can't ride a bike, well, I'll tell everyone that it's an awful mode of transport and convince myself I had an awful accident involving a bike that scarred me for life. Even at university, if (/when) I failed an exam, there were many reasons why. The teacher was a jerk, the pavement was slippy, my dog was feeling blue.
Eventually, when I was at the age when my friends were pros at riding a bike (what age *is* that, 7 or 8?) all it did was highlight my own failures. I couldn't grasp something that my mates younger brothers were fast learning, and that realisation drove me to hate myself just a tiny bit. Also, I'd just found out I needed glasses, so I was eaten up with more self-doubt at my social standing (because I'd been bullying my neighbour, Laura Murphy, something silly for having glasses, and went bright red when I learned my sky-blue frames would be the same brand as Laura's).
This was only a problem only once or twice; thankfully I don't live in Amsterdam, where students have to do modules in Casual Biking at school, take exams perched in a kitschy wicker basket mounted on a bike and their History syllabus is focused entirely on the Penny Farthing and it's impact on society.
The first bump was in year 6, when we did cycling proficiency. Just the name scared me (only because I didn't know what proficiency was, though if I had, the irony of it would have been all the more frightening) and I confided in my teacher, Mrs Corlett, that I couldn't ride a bike. She called a meeting with my parents one night after school.
"This isn't a problem at all," she said, after discussing how CP worked. Every day, a group of us would go with a policeman and prove we could manoeuvre around some cones before being given a badge. "No, this is very salvageable."
The plan was simple. Since balance was all in the ears, I'd spin a crafty tale that I had a very bad earache. Since my ears were infected, my balance would be off, and I wouldn't be able to take the test. I remember so vividly the sense of triumph I felt when I heard Mrs Corlett's solution - how brilliant that science can trump the system? Where there other ways to get one over on lifes hard comings, maybe using maths, or geography? Only now, when I look back on our ruse, do I realise nobody in the world would have bought it for a second.
The second incident came when I was about 14. We used to go swimming in Hynem, a lake near my friend's house, and one summer's day I got a call asking if I wanted to come along. I said yes, got dropped off at my mates house (with towel and trunks) and looked forward to having a bit of a splash.
"Didn't you bring a bike?" one friend said. I felt petrified, like an ice cube was dropped down my back. "We're biking there from my house."
Mum's car disappeared over the end of the road, my palms became sweaty. I was going to have to ride a bike, but how? How on earth could I get out of this one? Why wasn't Mike's parents driving us there? Was there maybe a pile of coats I could hide under? My fear turned to anger; this was deception of the worst kind.
"Don't have one, do I," I said, hoping my lack of a bike would fix the problem. Nope, a pink one was wheeled out the garage. I felt my heart hammering against my chest, wanting out.
"It's not ideal," the friend said. I agreed, but tried my best. I don't remember it much, but needless to say we didn't end up swimming. After making it ten minutes down the road I pulled over and was sick in the bushes; a mix of terror, stress, anxiety, and two fingers I kept ramming into my throat.
"Oh no, I'm so ill," I think I said, dialling Mum on the Nokia.
That sense of debilitation was crushing, especially at an age when people talk. What would people say, what would it say about me? Luckily when someone did tease me about it some years later, that person had lost their virginity to the biggest, scariest girl in school, so I had some ammunition to bring him down a peg or two.
Anyway, flash forward to last weekend (bypassing a story from my trip to Thailand which involves me speeding down a hill on a bike and colliding into a bison) and a few of us had gone to the zoo. But being with hangover, being unorganised, and many other things, we got there ridiculously late. It was 3pm, we'd not have enough time to get the most out the zoo, and we were bored. A boris bike terminal faced us, and a housemate suggested biking through Regent's Park.
By 22, I'd managed to laugh at my own shortcomings, in a classically self-depricating way. Some people knew I couldn't ride a bike, but it was just an amusement, similar to how I look when I jog (like an ostrich) or my lack of general knowledge (Africa is a continent, etc). But despite telling my housemates I couldn't ride a bike, they were adamant we biked through the park. No traffic, costs a quid, and how bad can you be all being arguments supporting it.
You don't understand, I'd say, imagining lying, knees scuppered, on the ground in the middle of a park, picking myself up and wheeling the scratched frame to the bike terminal, avoiding the look of disgust on my younger self's face. Why did you try? You know you couldn't do it...
I was sick of talking about it, since it made me sound like a moaning old coward. I couldn't emphasise enough how little I'd like to fall over in public, graze my knees, ruin my good hoody. I came here to mock animals, not to face the biggest thing I couldn't do.
But in an attempt to shut up the persistent housemates, I did it. I borrowed a quid (I may be about to be humiliated, I thought, but I definitely wasn't going to pay for the privilege) and swallowed my pride. If people couldn't fathom my ineptitude at cycling, well, I'd have to just show them.
We wheeled the bikes across the road (the traffic looked fast) and I fiddled with the seat (a bad seat had been an significant reason for my failures in Thailand, I believe) until there was no more arsing about to do. Alex and Jackson had kicked off and made their way through the leafy park, leaving me to do the same.
Off I went, veering to the left slightly and wobbling to the right, but within a few moments I had steadied myself. I fiddled with the gears, letting me push the pedals more smoothly, until I was gliding along the park like a pro. I couldn't quite believe it, especially since the incident in Thailand had me thrown over the handlebars, losing my glasses and sticking my white, flip-flopped foot into a bog filled with bison poo.
I was riding a bike through the park, and as I tried the brakes (again, a sensitive issue in Thailand as I gripped both brakes tightly enough to give myself hand cramps, causing me to veer into a thorny overgrowth, much to the amusement of a farmer) I felt in control.
The housemates looked baffled as I soared past, and I started kicking myself for taking everything so seriously. We spent the rest of the day biking until our legs were sore, though I was cautioned for cycling on the wrong side of a main road at one point. In my defenc- you know what, I won't even try and justify that one.
Sitting at home that night, it felt ridiculous that I'd treated the bike like a horrific monster I'd managed to lock in a suitcase, but feared it would burst out at any moment. Finally, I understood why people liked cycling, even if it was the hipsters with their retro bikes and skewed sense of identity. It was fun.
But the crucial thing was not that I felt like I conquered Everest - nobody really understood my excited yapping about what I did at the weekend, and I'd be the same if someone told me they finally mastered swimming, or successfully navigated ASDA without having a panic attack. The best part was that sense of enlightenment that I wish I could share with my younger self; things are never as tough as they seem.
I imagined telling him that - first and foremost - you could laugh about it when you were older, that you wouldn't need to resort to making yourself sick on the side of the road to get out of hanging out with your mates, all because an ugly, two wheeled beast stood in the way. And, better yet, you'd eventually jump on a bike and enjoy it so much you'd want to do it again. You can do it.
I was so elated that I took up jogging that week - after all, what other brilliant things had I shunned in my youth?
Well, I quickly gave up, but I'll leave it to the guffawing Japanese tourists to tell you why.