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Heap of Bicycles, Photo: Iwan Gabovitch Photo © Iwan Gabovitch

Miss Patricia
On Yer Bikes
Our expat columnist's wicked view of life in the UK

It's finally time to take our old bicycles in for tune-ups. We tried it before, back in that Fall Spring we had after the summer (? yeah, weird).

And as is usually the fate of Americans offering money to someone in England, we were chastised and sent on our way.

Miss Patricia

"We'd like to have these bikes repaired, please", Mr Patricia began, he thought reasonably enough. We were in a bike shop, where repairs were advertised in the window, and some new, shinier models formed a congregation around us.

A pale young salesclerk…sorry, salesCLARK…regarded us with doubtful, dubious gloom. "Hmmm. Are these pakted?" The look on his face was that of a courtroom solicitor who already knew the answer to the question he asked. He was plainly a practitioner of the sport himself. He had a ponytail and bruises all up and down one shin, which made me reconsider the wisdom of purchasing a modern version of the vehicles he supposedly sold, although the thought of suggesting a sale wasn't in his universe.

My husband looked confused. The clerk was asked to repeat himself, but a second try at conversation didn't get us further in understanding. Suddenly I twigged, (Is there any American equivalent to that word?) because the funereal expression on the clerk's face helped me translate.

"No, they were not expected," I helped. I am bwilliant! By now some colleagues had scented tragedy and were starting to gather round our mournful little scene. The three fit young men formed a circle of sorrow, gazing down at my sprawled out bike as if it were a dead puppy. By 'fit' I mean American Fit: athletic; as opposed to British Fit: hotties. Although one of them could well have qualified in either category.

Ponytail sighed and began a well-worn speech about how bike season was a poor time to request bike repair, and his mates repeated each of his statements like backup singers adding some soul, shaking their heads as they repeated his eulogy. They were like Macbeth"s three weird sisters in male form, echoing after their leader: "THE WEATHER The Weather the weather…IF YOU'D BOOKED If You'd Booked if you'd booked…"

My husband said that we didn't expect immediate service, but that olive branch pushed Ponytail even deeper into depression.

"It's just that the sun has come out now", he grieved. "Everybody sees the sunshine, and they want to take their bikes out, but then they sees that they need a little work and they wants to bring 'em in."

Ah! Even Americans can understand that! We once lived on the west coast of the US, so we knew what sunshine was. He was telling us that there was a DEMAND for his service! And not only was there a demand, but it was PREDICTABLE each year. Great! That means, to a simple-minded American, a chance to do some business and make a shitload of money.

But 'demand' in the UK means something different. It is something made by spoiled children who need proper discipline.

"Well, I'm sorry, but you can't leave 'em 'ere", said Ponytail. "Everybody wants their bikes worked on now. We wooden have room for 'em aw."

This too, is understood by Americans. There really isn't any room. Not anywhere in England. We turn our feet sideways to get down the dollhouse steps in our flat, and we take our jeans out of the mini washer/dryer permanently compressed into tiny crinkle balls.

And the reason there isn't any room is that there are so many newcomers around just like us, except that since we originally came from England in the first place, it's more like being an overgrown adult child who keeps returning home, to sprawl in dad's favorite chair after getting a second divorce and selling the motorcycle on ebay.

My mother's American ancestors gathered in my brain to argue that meeting demand is a darned good way to make a profit and keep bike repairmen off the dole.

But my father's English ancestors argued back (politely) that patient queueing is the foundation of civilised society, and every experience of it is splendid for self discipline. In this instance, the queue began back in our own garage.

In his closing statement, Ponytail explained that if we had only brought our bikes in the winter, when bikes are not needed, all would have been well. So we trundled them dejectedly back home and decided to spend our last summer weekend selecting a Christmas tree, when we might increase our chances of getting one.

It's all about Following the Rules! Not Jumping the Queue! The redcoats are still marching in straight lines, while we naughty colonists break the rules by hiding behind trees like wild Indians (as they were called in history books) because that way we win!

We understood what he meant about social order, though. Imagine what would happen if tickets in cinemas were not sold by seat number! It would be anarchy, with viewers seated just anywhere they liked in movie theaters and shifting away from the tall person in front! Yes, my friend mentioned the other day that he lost his cinema ticket money, because by the time the evening finally arrived, he forgot to go. But on the other hand, in this country, crazed gunmen would have to book their nervous breakdowns in advance.

We laugh when our British friends nurture their petty little rules. But they have stood the test of time pretty well.

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