Stop, thief! Preferably under a juggernaut

'What alien backside is straddling your saddle? Whose legs are pressing on your frail pedals?'

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It's only a bicycle, they all said, it isn't a person, you can get another one. No I can't and it wasn't only a bicycle. It was a friend. It was 15 years old, cream - well, creamish under the rust - with "Halford's Ladies' Shopper" printed on the frame, a basket at the front, a child seat at the back and a cunning little lever between the pedals which enabled it to fold up and pack neatly away.

It's only a bicycle, they all said, it isn't a person, you can get another one. No I can't and it wasn't only a bicycle. It was a friend. It was 15 years old, cream - well, creamish under the rust - with "Halford's Ladies' Shopper" printed on the frame, a basket at the front, a child seat at the back and a cunning little lever between the pedals which enabled it to fold up and pack neatly away.

Latterly the lever had lost some of its cunning, and cycling along Cale Street to the fishmonger's for a pound of haddock, it would suddenly fold up with me on it. Cyclists rarely speak kindly of motorists but I have nothing but praise for those drivers who sprang out of their cars to help disentangle me, my infant passenger and the haddock from the folding fetters of my Halford's Ladies' Shopper.

Well-meaning friends would tell me that I shouldn't cycle in London because of my eyesight, but unlike the majority of urban cyclists I can honestly say that I've never had an accident - unless you count running over a Spanish waiter in Piccadilly, which wasn't my fault. Like all continentals, he was looking the wrong way when he stepped off the kerb. Besides, it was me who came off worst from the encounter. "Muchos sorry madame," he kept saying as he picked me up and put me back in the saddle. "I no see you, I very bad man. Come, I make you better." "No way, Jose, just look where you're going next time," I said crisply and wobbled off.

If everyone riding a bicycle in London was as careful as I am (or was before my bike was stolen), drivers wouldn't constantly complain about the reckless disregard cyclists have for the Highway Code. I never swerve or change lanes. I trundle slowly along the yellow line in the inside lane minding my own business, humming snatches from The Merry Widow. Once, preoccupied with my usual unprintable fantasies, I realised that the familiar yellow line I was following had run out and I was pedalling up a ramp into what looked like someone's drawing room. Dismounting by the piano, I leaned my bike against a regency sofa and looked about me bewildered. "Lost your way, lady?" said a man, carrying one end of a dining table, with Pickford's Removals across his T-shirt. "Or just waiting to be unloaded with the rest?"

In the good old days we kept our bikes downstairs in the hall along with the pram. And then they tarted up the block, put in a stair carpet, rented flat three to a Wall Street banker for big bucks and everyone got a letter saying bikes were no longer permitted in the hall. In future they must be kept in the yard at the back.

We dutifully chained our bikes in the rat-infested yard. A week later my son's BMX was stolen. "Yours will be next, mum," he warned. But I laughed, knowing that no one in their right mind would steal my rust bucket. To be on the safe side, I moved it from theyard and chained it to the parkingmeter outside our front door, where I reasoned that anyone attempting to saw through the padlock or the chain would be accosted.

On Tuesday afternoon I cycled to the rose garden in Battersea Park to meet a friend. On Tuesday evening I padlocked it as usual to the parking meter. On Wednesday morning it was gone.

Oh Halford's Ladies' Shopper where are you? What rude, alien backside is straddling your saddle now? Whose thick, mottled legs are pressing down on your frail pedals, goading you to perform the sort of wild lane-switching manoeuvres from which, like a mother, I protected you all these years? I know what's going to happen. Your new owner will tire of the very quirks and foibles that so endeared you to me, and throw you on the nearest skip. Please God, before that happens, fight back. Choose your moment. As your tired old handlebars are wrenched savagely sideways to avoid the juggernaut lurching towards you on the Cromwell Road, fold, jack-knife, constrict and pack your thieving rider neatly away under its wheels. Vengeance is mine.

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