Sunday, December 15, 2002


I’ve got an A-Levels in Applied Mathematics and Physics. They taught me all kinds of stuff about forces, angular motion and the use of Newton’s Laws. Like for example, what would happen to a bicycle being towed down a steep hill and round a sharp bend at the bottom. If only they’d taught me that about ten years earlier...


Regular readers will know that I grew up on a street that was perched on the side of a hill. Being a dead-end, there was hardly any traffic, and we were pretty much free to bike, rollerskate and stakeboard to our hearts’ content without the fear of ending up a red smear on the tarmac at the hands of the maniac from number thirty-eight. Which only ever happened to me once.

Any road up, the fashionable thing to do was to meet up at the top of the road on our bikes, and race down as fast as wee could, only braking at the last second, several hundred yards away just in front of John’s house. No-one wore helmets. It wasn’t as if we were going to fall of or anything...

Webby, who lived at number one, had a speedo on his bike, and we would take turns trying to get the top speed. There was some supreme bullshitting going on, with peope claiming to have recorded speeds in excess of sixty miles per hour. With my legs pumping furiously, I got up to thirty-six. Or fifty-six, as I triumphantly declared when I got back to the top of the hill.

But you know kids. No matter how fast we went, we had to have more. We had to rack up the danger. This was when Matty produced his old bike out of his garage. It had been ravaged for spare parts and had no mud guards, chain or brakes. Apart from that, it was sound.

So how to make it go? Easy. Matty had also produced a rope. He’d tow the little blue death-trap behind him down the hill. It would, he declared, be the thrill of a lifetime. A very short lifetime.

The bikes were prepared. Matty mounted his steed, and with the rope tied firmly to the handbars of the death-trap, like a fool, I jumped on behind him.

Matt pedalled like fury, and as the rope went taut, the rest of the lads gave me a hearty shove-off, chasing us down the hill whooping and shouting.

And this is where those lessons in maths and physics might have come in handy. With the ninety degree bend in the road fast approaching, I suddenly realised I had absolutely no control over the bike. I couldn’t slow down, and with Matty already disappearing round the corner a good thirty feet in front of me, I couldn’t steer the thing either. I was a projectile, under all kinds of forces outside my control. Up in heaven, Sir Isaac Newton was rubbing his hands with glee...

Matty shot round the corner, doing a good seventy five miles per hour by his own reckon. My bike shot round in a huge arc, rapidly approaching the speed of sound, fully obeying all sorts of laws of angular motion into the bargain.

That didn’t last for long. I let out a blood-curdling scream as the bike swung round and smashed into the low wall in front of number fifteen. Angular motion gave way to projectile flight. I was airbourne, proscribing aperfect arc through the air, sailing over the flowerbeds filled with prize-winning roses.

I landed face first on the lawn, creating three yard-long furrows in the grass with my chin and knees. It hurt. A lot. I was carted home with concussion, where I spent the rest of the day hurling my guts up.

The old guy from number fifteen was in apoplexy. He’d spent the last hundred and seventy years cultivating that lawn, just for me to turn it into a landing strip for retards. I was lucky to be alive. He was planning on using me as fertilizer.

The next day, covered in bruises, Matty showed me what was left of the bike I’d been riding. It was so smashed up you could have carried it home in your pocket, and used was was left over as iron filings.

There was a lesson to be learned from this whole affair. Oh yes. It was: Don’t play silly buggers. And did we learn? What do you think?

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