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Wheels on the bike go round and round 27: Sunday
by Mike Jennett
2009-08-09 10:18:46
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This has nothing whatever to do with riding a bike across America but, as we pedalled through a closed near-ghost town the other day, someone remarked that it felt like Sunday and my mind travelled back in time a generation to another era…

- - - - - 

It’s Sunday morning.

It’s 1978.

It’s England – Shrub End, Colchester, to be exact.

I wake up, momentarily pleased that it’s a weekend, but then realize that it’s Sunday. Should I be happy or depressed? The weather will determine which, but the single hole in the curtains hasn’t yet rotted enough to see what’s going on outside.

True, the weekend is only half used but the Sunday Trading laws ensure that everything is closed and that no one goes anywhere or does anything not directly connected with church or family.

For someone in my position – not religious and having no girlfriend, no car, no friends without family obligations and living in the world’s smallest bed-sit in a house run by an eighty year old gay man who calls himself Maur-eece – Sunday holds little promise.

I get up, dress quickly and pull back the curtains in anticipation and stare out at a dismal gray sky with a warming sense of glee. There’s not much evidence of actual rain, apart from the odd dribble collecting dirt as it runs down the cracked window, but the general degree of dullness shows that the day has potential.

This is the kind of rain that old housewives like my mother, who do their hair up in headscarves, refer to as fine rain. It gets you cold to the bone and wet through and makes the world so dismal that there’s no point spending time outside. It’s the kind of inclemency that makes Sunday acceptable; a perfect day for the pub.

I’m dismayed to see that the old red Westclox alarm clock on top of the TV says it’s only eight o’clock. Maybe I forgot to wind it up and it’s stopped? Did we switch to summertime in the night? Neither of those is true and I must face the fact that I have four hours to wait, so I try to summon a sense of stoicism, which is the closest to the British stiff upper lip that I can manage at the age of 21.

What now? The afternoon’s entertainment will be the cinema, of course, that much is certain. Besides the pubs, with their minimalist trading hours, the cinema is the only thing allowed to open on Sunday, but not until four o’clock.

Of the three in Colchester, the Cameo closed due to lack of interest but no one noticed until it became a bicycle shop. The ABC went bankrupt and soldiered on for a while by presenting unfunny comedians to children on Saturday mornings until the kids realized that there were no films anymore and stopped going. That leaves the Odeon, which shows two features concurrently but alters the start times on a Sunday.

The only ways of finding out the Sunday program is to look in a newspaper, to phone them, or to physically go there. It would help if they could put up a notice on Saturday, but the sour old woman who runs the ticket booth evidently feels that this would be an unnecessary drain on her energies.

The newspaper option requires having the forethought to buy one on a Saturday – because not even the newsagent is open on Sunday – and calling is no use as the ticket seller rarely answers the phone until after the film has started. In any event, that would require the co-operation of Maur-eece.

To retain phone control, he placed a small locking device on the one-hole of the dial and keeps the key on a string around his neck. The only numbers that can be dialed must be composed entirely of ‘1’s and I suspect that there are not so many of them. It is possible to pick the lock with an opened paperclip or to generate a number by clicking the receiver rest or even rattle it until the operator answers, but none of these is practical whilst Maur-eece is in the house.

The best option is to go there. On a weekday, there are so many buses into town that they form an almost unbroken stream like giant maroon and cream ducks but not today. On Sunday, there’s one per hour, if the driver has turned up for work. At least fifty percent of the time he has not and I have to walk three miles along streets devoid of people except skinheads looking for a fight, past closed shops, closed pubs, closed garages and closed restaurants. Since the single Sunday bus, driven by the single Sunday driver performs a special Sunday loop, its absence in one direction means that I will be walking both ways.

Still wondering how to use the morning, I notice the bulging plastic bag of dirty clothes in the corner and realize that I could go to the launderette, which is the only place that will be open besides the pub and the cinema. I’m so happy with this discovery that it even occurs to me to take a bath.

The water is cold.

Only Maur-eece can turn on the boiler. He has never been persuaded to set the time clock to do it automatically and the key to the boiler cupboard is, for reasons known only to himself, kept in the same place as the telephone key.

Involving Maur-eece in anything at all requires a discussion at the kitchen table concerning justification for the request, latest news about his affected friends Rich-ard and Kenn-eth, their eye-diseased dog, his brain-tumored Burmese cat (who frequently jumps into boiling pots on the stove whilst aiming for his adjoining basket) and unbelievable anecdotes from his army days.

On the good side, such a scene would use up a part of Sunday otherwise having no value but it would take at least half an hour to heat the water. Staying in close proximity for that long whilst a bath-robed Maur-eece complains about my lack of washing-up skills and smokes those stinky Gitanes that he claims he got a taste for in the French Foreign Legion (not that anyone believes he ever went to Corsica) is too painful.

I’m not supposed to know he left the army thirty years earlier under something of a cloud and I’m certainly not supposed to question his dubious presence in the Legion. Our relationship has been somewhat strained after I laughed when he claimed to have invented vinegar and now I’m expected to listen and gaze in awe at whatever he says.

Such a discussion is impossible to avoid when I want something and Maur-eece does not tolerate escape attempts whilst he is recounting the past, fabricated or not. Suffering of that degree represents too much misery for a Sunday and besides, I’d never be able to justify two baths in the same week.

Aside from remnants of six-month old copies of Reader’s Digest that even the dentist would throw out, British launderettes never have anything remotely helpful or usable in them and a machine to dispense soap powder or change for the washers falls firmly into that category. Fortunately, I manage to collect enough coins from odd reserves I have scattered around my room and under the carpet.

I open the windows wide to let in the wet freshness, which is about as close as I’m going to come to personal hygiene today and stuff into the bag everything that can be washed. Suitably prepared, I creep downstairs, steal some detergent from the smelly cupboard in the kitchen and walk out into the inviting chill of the outside world.

Sitting in the launderette as my clothes turn in sudsy circles, I wonder where my life is going and whether today’s mission is one of relevance. There’s a disconcerting feeling that time is slipping by but attaining the confidence to radically change it is a gift that I have yet to receive.

Read more at: www.mikeonwheels.com OR www.wheelsonthebikegoroundandround.blogspot.com    

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