It’s midday and it’s hot. There isn’t a cloud in the sky and as I push open the door to the workshop, the dark, dusty coolness is a relief. There always seems to be work to do at the hottest time of day, although these days the heat lasts well into the night so there’s no getting away from it.
I walk up the ancient wooden staircase and into the roof of the barn where we have our workshop and keep our bikes and canoe equipment. The workshop smells of dust, old wood and bicycle oil and the sunlight leaks through the roof and leaves distorted patterns on the cobwebby walls. In dark corners there are old hotel signs and piles of ancient bicycle wheels.
I place my things down on the wooden workbench and peel off my t-shirt that is sticking to me. Opening the windows stretches and breaks the newest of the cobwebs, but lets a delicious breeze through the barn.
I look around and assess what needs to be done. I’ve just given six people a lift to the train station and there are no arrivals for another four hours so there is time to catch up with some chores.
First, I head back down the stairs with some buoyancy aids, barrels and ropes that need washing and hanging out to dry. I cross the road and walk down the few steps to the old “lavoir”. Most towns and villages in France still have these outdoor communal washing areas and they are often still used. I throw my things into the clear pool of water and then just hang over the side for a minute with my arms completely immersed. I wonder if anyone would mind if I just got in myself. The water is cool and clear and looks so inviting.
I don’t get in but instead wash my canoeing equipment and leave it to dry in the sun next to a fast-flowing brook where the ducks are sleeping and the dragonflies are hovering.
After hanging my stuff out to dry I take a moment to sit in the shade of the lavoir and have some lunch. An older gentleman, complete with straw trilby, Bermuda shorts and walking stick comes along and engages me in conversation. He thinks I am from the Netherlands at first, but then seeing the number plate on my van, changes his mind and decides I am from Haute Savoie. I tell him I am English and the van was rented in Annecy. Ah ha. That explains everything. He offers his hand and when I go to shake it he takes my hand and kisses it and then is briskly on his way with an “au revoir, bon appétit”.
I never remember such little interchanges when I was in the UK, or anywhere else for that matter.
Back in the workshop I clean and put away some more canoeing and cycling equipment, do some quick maintenance on the handles of the barrels that we use for canoeing, and carry six bikes up the ancient stairs ready for cleaning. I pull out one of the bikes, clean it and give it the once over so that it is ready for an arrival this evening.
My own bike is up on the stand waiting to be fixed. The only problem with a bike that is almost as old as you are, is that when parts break it is sometimes difficult to replace them. I have been using the tools in the workshop to try to build myself a replacement spring for one of my brake mechanisms but it is proving harder that it first looked. I may have to get out and look around some of the local fleamarkets to see if I can get a replacement part.
If you had told me six months ago that I would be spending this summer finding solace and an escape from the midday heat in a bicycle workshop, having completed a basic bike maintenance course, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But here I am.
For the last ten years or so, I have dreamed of having my own therapy room and aroma-apothecary where I can massage aching muscles and make lovely balms and potions for people to take away with them. My dream of a lovely, calm, relaxing space for my work is, oddly enough, not so far away from the reality of the bicycle workshop. Whether you are massaging limbs and creating potions, or maintaining bikes and cleaning equipment, both types of work are solitary, requiring concentration and focus in a calm, relaxing environment.
I’m still dreaming of my therapy room and little potion-making workshop and I fully believe it will happen at some point. Just not yet. There are obviously still things to do and areas to be explored before it happens. You never know though, it might be closer than I think.
In the meantime the workshop will do just fine.