Pebble-dashed

Nov 10th, 1984, Tuscany.

I stared at it for ages. It reminded me of an egg, a very large egg, perhaps from an ostrich or even a dinosaur. But it couldn’t be from a dinosaur because all the dinosaurs are dead. So why did I think that it might be? There is something wrong with my thinking, I thought.

The ‘egg’ was perfectly smooth in its egginess with brown speckles covering its hard, fawn-coloured surface. I kept staring at it, trying to work out what was wrong with it. Then I noticed there were more of them all around, in different colours: grey, white and brown and all the mixtures and variations of those hues. But there was definitely something wrong about them, too. My vision was bit blurry and, as the other ‘eggs’ came more clearly into view, I started to wonder why I was staring at eggs which, of course, weren’t eggs at all. They were stones; the sort of stones you’d call pebbles if they were smaller, worn smooth by the passage of time and water. But these were bigger than pebbles – six or seven inches long, some of them – and they were just a few inches from my nose. Snippets of geography lessons about glacial moraine flashed through my mind. Then I realised what was wrong: stones shouldn’t be that close to my nose. My head must be on the ground, I thought. So, why is my head on the ground?

I rolled onto my back. OK, so the sky was where it should be and much the same colour as I remembered it. Nothing wrong with the sky, then, the problem must be with me.

Then the taste came: the taste you only ever get when you’ve got gravel in your mouth. The taste reminded me of falling off a motorbike. That was why my face was on the ground next to the stones. I must have fallen and hit my head. Fallen from where, though? Not the sky, surely?

Then I heard the water. I tried to think of the right word for the sound it was making. People often say “babbling”, but that wasn’t it. It was tumble-whooshing and splosh-rippling – and here I am lying on the ground making up words about it. There is still something very wrong, I thought.

I rolled onto my side and studied the stream, dappled in shade from small, overhanging trees. It didn’t feel or smell like England, or anywhere that I knew. The trees didn’t look at all familiar and I wondered where they were from. I watched the water flow past their roots. Then I watched the trees and the stones flow past the water. It seemed that whatever I wasn’t looking straight at – anything in my peripheral vision – was flowing past whatever I focussed on. It occurred to me that stillness and motion are entirely relative but, however profound that thought might be, I was still lying on the ground.  And I shouldn’t be lying on the ground. So I sat up.

Something cold dripped from my nose. I swiped it onto a fingertip and looked at it. It was definitely blood. That’s the other taste you get in your mouth after falling off; the tastes of blood and gravel go together like eggs and bacon. I looked about me to try and make sense of it all and saw my bicycle. Then I remembered I was in Italy. I remembered turning off the road onto a stony track towards a stream to take a rest and get some shade. I must have crashed.

I leaned forward onto all fours and crawled over to the bike. Pushing against it, I stood up and raised the bike up with me. There didn’t seem to be much wrong with it. The brakes were still working, the handlebars seemed straight and neither of the tyres were punctured, but the front panniers were still on the ground, either side of the wheel, still attached to the rack. And there was the problem: the rack wasn’t attached to the top of the forks.

It all became clear: the front rack mounting had broken. The rack must have pivoted forward in front of the front wheel, stopping the bike dead in its tracks, and I must have gone straight over the handlebars, head-first onto the stones. And I wasn’t thinking properly because I was concussed. That explained the dinosaur eggs.

Much annoyed by all this, I took off all the panniers and made some coffee whilst devising a method of fixing the broken bracket. It would have been easy if I’d had a drill to make a new hole for a replacement bolt to go through, but I didn’t have a drill, or spare bolt. There’s only so much kit you can carry, and you can’t drill through chromed steel with a knife. So, I heated up the end of the bracket with the gas stove until it was red hot and bent it into a loop with pliers. Then, using the other half of the hinge I’d bought in Bourg-en-Bresse for the previous repair, I made a new mounting. By heating up some old spokes on the stove until they were glowing, I managed to thread them through the bolt-hole in the top of the forks and the newly-bodged bracket and tie them into a simple knot as if they were steel string. I even managed not to burn myself. Then I plastered the knot with my life-saving epoxy putty to keep it tight and waited until it had hardened. I felt very pleased with my ingenuity, and for remembering to bring a small pair of pliers.

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