Recently I have had a lot of time for reflection and I’ve spent much of it thinking how lucky I am to have my wife to share my life with.
When we met, some 11 years ago, I was sharing a long and narrow 3 roomed semi-detached house in Woodstock, Cape Town. There was little space and this meant that most of my bicycle maintenance took place in my bedroom. Taking pride of place in the corner of my room with a commanding view out over Cape Town harbour stood my large, greasy workbench. Either of my bicycles was usually in some state of maintenance or repair and entering the room involved stepping over piles of greasy parts on pieces of newspaper. Every now and then one would blunder and so the carpeted floor had a cosmos of greasy stains, kind of like a reverse milky way. Sweaty cycling kit usually hung on the wall drying out and a pair of muddy and tattered MTB shoes lived permanently at the door whenever they weren’t on my feet. They stank and weren’t really allowed anywhere else in the shared house.
I was working night shifts every second week at an emergency Veterinary Clinic and taking full advantage of the daytime freedom – I’d usually head out onto the mountain after work each day getting back exhausted and with just enough time to catch some sleep before the next shift started. Often I’d crawl, still clothed, straight into my bed on a mattress on the floor in the corner opposite the workbench.
Somehow she saw through the slovenly living quarters and decided to give me a try.
The last couple of years getting Mercer Bikes up and running have been the busiest years of my life. Once again working as a full time Afterhours Vet I spend 2 weeks per month working night shifts – the rest of each month is spent in the workshop. Many days after my shift ends I go straight back into the workshop and continue till I am forced to sleep before work starts again. It’s a small sacrifice for me but I love what what I do and cannot imagine any other way of life (well, maybe just a little less Veterinary work).
Throughout all of this my wife has remained steadfast and encouraging. It was she that urged me to buy my very first tubeset. She convinced me to go to Bespoked: UKHBS. She brings me tea in my workshop late at night as she’s packing up for bed. She helps with admin when I just don’t have the time. She looks after me and all this despite holding down teaching posts herself.
Two weeks ago she gave birth to our first child, a beautiful boy.
A week ago I collapsed at home in pain. Unbelievable pain surged in my abdomen just beneath the rib-cage. I was rushed to the nearest hospital. Within a couple of hours I was undergoing emergency surgery to repair a ruptured gastric ulcer – a toxic cocktail of gastric acid, digestive juices and partially digested food was leaking out of the rupture site and into my abdomen. If doctors hadn’t acted immediately then I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this now. The first few days after the surgery were indescribably painful and not worth trying to recall. Once I was moved out of Intensive Care I had a lot of time to reflect on just how lucky I am. My window faced my beloved Table Mountain – I spent days gazing at the crags and gullies facing me, Cape Town’s winter light changing through the day burning the sandstone a searing orange red by morning and blue grey in the evening cool.
I watched clock hands slowly passing while I counted the hours between visiting times when I’d be able to see my wife again.
I returned home this afternoon. My recovery will take a little time and I will need to reassess my lifestyle and make a few changes. It will be a month or two before I can really ride again and still longer till my core has healed enough to climb – for now that is ok – I’m content just to be here with my wife and son.
I’m the luckiest man in the world!
Before I left for Bespoked, my wife slipped a piece of paper into my luggage and said it was something to keep me company whenever I felt lonely. I opened the folded page while holed up in my tent in a soggy Wales campsite to find a poem she’d written for me. I though it appropriate that I share it here. This goes out to all the framebuilder’s wives:
The frame builder’s wife
She sleeps close to the smell of steel.
First cousin to iron
it exudes the scent of blood.
In the darkness
her husband’s body rests.
The shapes of his designs
embedded in his tired hands.
Calloused and cracked
they look the hands of an older man.
with the knowledge of steel, brass and silver.
A different kind of alchemy
giving shape to speed
grace to commuter traffic
thrill to downhill dirt track.
He dreams of two wheeled machines.
In their making
he absorbs filaments of bicycle
his skin soft armour
until in his sleep
he releases curve and chainstay
each fillet sanded
lugs filed smooth.
In the morning
the evidence outlines his head
a halo of rust stains his pillow red.
His wife rests her hand on his chest
breathes in the familiar scent of the matrimonial bed.