It’s a brisk and chilly March morning but that doesn’t deter Crispin. The cold has never bothered him and he slings on his rucksack over his Sustrans T-shirt, pauses to wipe a smear from his John Lennon glasses and mounts the faithful Brompton. Crispin loves the fact that his company vehicle is a Brompton and he’s adorned it with various cycling stickers like ‘Cycologist’, ‘Burn Fat, Not Oil’, and his favourite, ‘Life Behind Bars’ with a picture of some drop handlebars.
As part of his job as Sustrans Education Officer he’s off to Springfield Prep School today for the culmination of their Big Pedal campaign to get more kids cycling to school. Trouble is, it being an independent school, the kids’ parents seem quite happy to drive their offspring in an armada of oversized Chelsea tractors.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that the Headmaster, who claims to be a cyclist himself and urges everyone to cycle to school, in fact purrs through the gates in his Audi 6 estate every morning, which is then left conspicuously in the staff car park. It appears that cycling is a mode of transport for lesser mortals. The parents have offered heaps of cash to support the charity, of course, but as Crispin keeps trying to tell everyone, their charity is not about raising money – it’s about raising awareness! He compromised by accepting cash to buy some bike tools to supply the State primary school round the corner.
To be honest, Dad, or Colin as he preferred to be called (the names ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’ were regarded as part of capitalist hegemony), would turn in his grave if he knew that Crispin was spending so much time at a fee paying prep school. He looks back on those days at the Anarcho Syndicalist Commune in Hampshire fondly. Sadly, the large rambling farmhouse adorned with murals and CND posters that he grew up in with three other families was requisitioned by the Water Board so they could flood the valley for a reservoir. They moved back to London where Colin lectured in Sociology at The School of African and Oriental Studies while Mum (Cynthia) went back to teaching Food Technology at the local comp that Crispin himself attended. It was tough there, especially as his fellow pupils constantly bullied him for him not having a telly and being the son of Miss Vinegar Tits. Being called Crispin wasn’t exactly a help either.
In fact, it was Cynthia who came up with the idea of building a pedal-powered smoothie-making machine, and it’s this that’s weighing down Crispin’s diminutive frame as he pedals, high cadence, down the South Circular towing a trailer with the afore mentioned liquidiser within it. But what’s this? The cycling path appears to be blocked by an enormous black pick up truck with oversized tyres and the word, ‘Warrior’, emblazoned across the back.
“Excuse me, but it’s illegal to park here at this time of day,” offers Crispin.
A human being with more of a passing resemblance to an Orangutan than a Homo Sapiens juts a chin out of the open window.
Two minutes later, Crispin is picking himself up from the tarmac, a dribble of blood trickling out of one nostril. He hears a shout of, “You should shave that bum fluff off your chin, Mate!” before he sees, through the cracked lens of his glasses, the pick up truck roaring up the road in a cloud of exhaust fumes.
Visibly shaken, Crispin arrives at the gates of Springfield Prep and begins to set up the smoothie contraption in the playground when he hears a loud, “Huzzah! Crispin!” It’s the Head, dressed head to toe in lycra and luminous reflective bits, wobbling across the playground atop a road bike. Children scatter as he approaches, violins, school bags and Games kits left in their wake. He raises a hand to wave, swerves, recovers, narrowly avoids a Mum and rolls to a halt in front of Crispin. “Isn’t this marvellous, amazing, really super, “ he puffs. Then, gathering his breath, “Love what you’re doing. Must have at least a dozen or so pupils on their bikes this morning!”
Crispin gets a volunteer to sit astride the smoothie making machine, a child’s bike with the chain mechanism attached to the liquidiser. A little crowd circles around them with the Head at the front, hands on hips, ever ready for the photo opportunity with Friday’s newsletter in mind. The little boy starts to pedal and Crispin drops a banana, some raspberries and and orange in the machine.
“You’re going to have pedal harder than that!” chortles the Head.
The poor little fat boy puffs out his cheeks and puts in an extra effort, and the machine starts to turn in short sporadic spurts.
“Come on Ryan, harder!” calls out the head.
Little Ryan gathers all his strength and, unbelievably, begins to turn the pedals at a prolific rate. The machine whirrs into action. The little crowd start to clap and cheer and there’s a chant of, “Ryan, Ryan, Ryan!”
The Head smiles for the camera, turns to look straight at the lens in fact, with a broad grin. Then, just as the button is about to click for that memorable front page pic, half a banana coated in raspberry juice flies out of the liquidiser and smacks him straight in the face. Click.
Later that morning, after being chastised and lectured by the Head for poor Health and Safety procedures, Crispin is making his weary way home via a Sustrans 'Quiet Route' when he spots the Warrior truck double-parked, and blocking his way for the second time that day. He squeaks to halt, gets off the bike and reaches into the trailer for the smoothie making machine. Slowly, and with great relish, he pours the revolting pink mixture with chunks of banana over the windscreen when he notices with a rising tide of excitement that the driver window is open. He stifles a giggle, then pours the remaining sludge onto the driver's seat.
"Now that's what Colin would have said was taking direct action," he smiles to himself.
Our cycling warrior continues on his way with a grin wider than the Headmaster could ever manage, charged and ready to continue the battle for sustainable transport for another day. We salute you!