Alexei Sayle: Yes, it was humiliating to be in tandem...

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Indy Lifestyle Online

I wrote in my last column about when I'd owned a classic car that I thought was making me happy when, in fact, it made me miserable. This got me to thinking about other vehicles that have induced the same sensation in me.

I wrote in my last column about when I'd owned a classic car that I thought was making me happy when, in fact, it made me miserable. This got me to thinking about other vehicles that have induced the same sensation in me.

I can think of at least two other occasions. The first was when I owned a tandem. In fact, for a while, I owned two tandems (is the plural of tandem "tanda", or perhaps two tandems make a quandem).

The thing was that I didn't learn to drive until I was 30. In our terraced street in Liverpool, when I was growing up, a car was a mythical thing - as rare as a unicorn or a cabinet minister with a conscience.

I've always been fascinated by motor vehicles simply because of this mythical quality. To me a car seemed unattainable. As an adult, to get around, I walked, took public transport or cycled. When I started making money from comedy it simply never occurred to me to learn to drive and to buy a car. I just bought more and more bicycles - at one point I owned nine!

However, Linda, my wife, has no sense of balance so I thought the answer for us to get about was to buy a tandem. My first was a strange 1950s Claude Butler racing model. But we found it too demanding, so I got a huge, heavy, black Pashley tandem, with a complicated arrangement of chains and cogs.

We were living on the 12th floor of a council tower block, and to get the Pashley in and out of our flat I had to stand it upright in the lift. This worked surprisingly well, since council lifts are designed to take an upright coffin - which is the same height as a tandem.

However, because I'd started appearing on TV and having success as a comedian, we had begun to look at properties to buy. I recollect turning down many reasonably priced, attractive apartments on the grounds that there was nowhere to store a two-seater bike.

Just as with the classic Rover I later owned, there were many contradictory emotions that riding the tandem brought to the surface which I wouldn't acknowledge. If you think two people on a tandem look stupid, with their legs twiddling around in unison and one with their nose up the other's bottom, then how they actually feel goes way beyond that into whole new realms of appalling humiliation.

This feeling of conspicuousness and humiliation is compounded when the person at the front is a new face on television with a hip, aggressive, in-your-face attitude, a catchphrase about new motors and a taste for wearing three-button mod suits.

Also, people feel free to say hurtful things to people on tandems - "she's not pedalling mate" was one, followed by "I thought you were really cool when you were on stage in that club in Soho but now I see you riding that ridiculous machine, I'm disillusioned with everything you say and do and always will be".

In the end, I sold the Claude Butler to a bike-mad student. But I can't, for the life of me, remember what happened to the Pashley. Maybe it woke up one day and rode off by itself - tandems are capable of that sort of behaviour.

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