We were definitely on the Zürich bus. The man in front of us was wearing shoes so shiny you could have used them to set fire to kindling. His style was, well, flammable, dark hair pasted back with a combination of hairspray and what looked like cooking lard. He was wearing trousers of the ¾-length, pencil persuasion, the kind marketed at “Louis, a swiss banker struggling to spend his pocket money.” I find these usually only come in a minimalist design, hanging to about the ankle before finishing abruptly — the polyester mic-drop. (This is of course, to allow for a generous flash of ankle above the gentleman’s pump.)
The journey to Konstanz took three-and-a-half-hours from Munich, during which time, our swiss banker managed to wear his face mask around his chin, under his nose, on his wrist like an armband, and on one occasion, inside out, successfully circumnavigating the mainstream.
For Valentin’s sanity and clean criminal record, it was lucky that the last leg of the journey involved getting out of the bus. Amazingly, the fastest way from Meersburg to Konstanz is still by ferry, a 15-minute hop over the Bodensee, the largest lake in Germany. Crossing at a narrower stretch, the Konstanz shore seems laughably close, encouraging those accustomed to a faster pace of living to claim: I could swim that far.
But this is not a place of fast living. In the distance, sailing boats drifted towards the harbour, the lake so vast, a low haze obscured the shoreline in the opposite direction, the water a deep cornflower blue that merged at some far-off point with a cloudless sky.
We arrived in Konstanz harbour as the sun was going down. The light made everything look as if it had been glazed in apricot jam. I thought of Mum’s Christmas cake, just before the top layer goes on, the way she drapes the circle of royal icing over the rolling pin, satisfying the obsessive in me, as she lays it over the marzipan.
We cadged a lift to a house where Valentin’s brother was staying. In the garden, there were kiwis growing across an overhead trellis. To me, these are fruits you see in two places: Tesco, and if you’re middle-class, a fruit bowl. These looked like something out of a Renaissance scene, dripping golden-brown clusters that seemed longer than their supermarket cousins. The weather here is often hot and humid in the summer. I’d read somewhere that Konstanz has a “degraded oceanic climate”, whatever that is. It certainly didn’t feel like Germany.
That evening, we would meet some of Valentin’s family, holidaying nearby. We left the bags upstairs and rode out on bikes to an Italian restaurant in the old quarter (Altstadt). I’ve just read that back — it all sounds very civilised. Some utopian version of myself would have grasped the handlebars and drifted out into the tree-lined streets, tinkling along as the sun sunk over this transported piece of the Mediterranean.
The trouble is, putting me on a bike is like asking a toddler to defuse a bomb – a positive outcome is unlikely. I’d describe the relationship as turbulent. I have loved the thrill of riding downhill since I was very small, like every child, investigating how many limbs could be stuck out on either side, before toppling.
At 22, I am an attentive lover to the bicycle. I almost always remember where I have left it, and the important dates — anniversaries, birthdays, such as are required to disable a number lock. They say arguments are part of any healthy relationship. I’d say we do alright. I only end up yanking its chain, when I lay it chain-side down — it always gets bent out of shape about that… but between you and me, we’ve never had any trouble with intimacy. The trick is to always squeeze the tyres before mounting, stick out your chin, and nod philosophically. At least that’s what other riders seem to do… It is a tragedy; I have come to realise it does not love me back.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
- Summer 2020. Index finger looks like a spiralised cucumber after bike rear-ends Valentin at a junction in Munich.
- Summer 2019. Accidently agree to a two-day bike ride through Austria. After mishearing the daily distance estimate, I am 60km deep with thighs you could drive a bus between.
- Spring 2018. I attach two week’s worth of shopping to my handlebars. On the homeward journey, a four-pack of beans swings us into an oncoming lorry.
- Winter 2007. A traumatic childhood incident with a shoelace leaves me perpetually watching the chain go round, to avoid being sucked into the interior mechanism.
On the journey to the restaurant, Konstanz passed by at a crawl, unnoticed, my legs spinning at cartoon speed on what was supposedly fourth gear. In the far distance, over shop bells and ice cream chatter, Valentin’s brother shouted back something in the region of “OAP”
Perhaps I was going to fit in here after all…