|I don’t know anything about cycling. I know someone who does. They want me to write about Eddy Merckx.
They say he had stomach ulcers. I see he won a lot of races. I’ve heard of the Tour de France but I never watch it when it’s televised. If it shows up on my TV screen while I’m channel surfing I stop for a second or two, that’s about it.
What’s so special about Eddy Merckx? The only person I can name from Belgium is Plastick Bertrand, who most people think is French. Brendan Nelson is off to Belgium to be ambassador next week, lucky bastard. When I was a kid I wanted to be an astronaut or an ambassador. When Gaugh Whitlam become an ambassador, to France no less, I knew for sure I would never be in that league of leadership, not even in my wildest dreams.
Belgium? Don’t know anything about it. What’s Flemmish? Is that what they speak in Belgium? It sounds like snot and reminds me of ‘the snot green sea’ in Ulysses by, whatshisname, Joyce.
Cycling? I know a bit about a little known cyclist, Lionel Cox. Won at the Olympics with his mate in ’52, in Helsinki. That’s a funny name Hel-sinki, so is Fin-land. Makes me think of sharks circling the plug-hole of a sink to hell. Cox cycled tandem on a last minute blow in of a bike and made one of those classic great yarn surprise wins against the Euro-chic odds.
Merckxy is what we’d call Eddy Merckx if he lived round here. Cox is Coxy and so are all his descendants, one of whom, I taught last year. I teach close by, down the end of a bike track from my place but I’ve never ridden a bike on that track. I’ve walked halfway down it once. Sometimes old guys, and one old woman, ride alongside the bike track on the road. I always shake my head and wonder why the hell they don’t use the bike track and save their necks from the traffic that supposed to be travelling at 80K? They don’t seem to get it. They look like they come from a different world, some sort of parallel universe where the speed and potential killing power of motorised vehicles means nothing at all.
The old guys are dressed up in cycling gear: tight lycra garb but, the woman sits bolt upright, legs pushing straight down in lose fitted pastel coloured non descript clothing. They all have the same look on their faces though. A kind of subjective GPS. They know where they came from and where they are going and how they will get there and back again. Nice and simple.
Simplicity is a complex and deceptive concept. Bikes themselves maybe objectify this concept of simplicity. Maybe that is the allure. I’ve had a quick look at Merckxy’s website and he seems pretty much obsessive compulsive about the size and weight of pipes and wotnot. The point being, I just don’t think I can write about Eddy Merckx without getting into that deceptively simple headspace that portals to a parallel universe myself. If old codgers can do it, then, so can I. The odds of becoming some sort of cyclist are way better than astronaut or ambassador anyway.
12:45 on a Saturday, definitely due for a beer. I’ve just got back from a run down the shops, in my car, and picked up three cycling magazines. Australian cyclist (all lower case) has a blurred cyclist POV shot on the front cover and asks: How green is your bike?’ ride cycling review, I think it’s called, there’s a lot of text on the front cover, looks very UK-Euro serious. The guy on the front, mid pedal has an uber mean mouth that makes him look like alien vs predator with a spray tan in tight shirt and shorts with letters and numbers all over them. He could be the latest villain in the next Batman movie. His helmet has a lot of holes in it. Freewheel (again all lower case) is a combination of the two: outdoor blurred setting with a real cyclist who, this time, looks normal, at least approachable as an earthling.
The beer I’m drinking is what we call a boutique beer: Hand crafted Beez Neez honey wheat beer. Belgium beer is pretty big around here too and that leads me back to Eddy’s ulcers. Did Eddy drink Belgium beer? What do I know about ulcers? My brother had them, work related apparently, now he has chronic fatigue. Some mad Australian proved ulcers were a virus by self-inflicting them and won himself a Nobel peace prize. Did cycling give Eddy Merckx ulcers? More importantly, did they stop him from drinking Belgium beer?
Eddy was born in a town called Meensel-Kiezegem, wikipedia tells me. The only word I recognize on the Meensel-Kiezegem.be website is ‘folklore’ underneath a field of poppies wedged between two shots of a pretty town with a spire and a green field with an orchard. Google images throws up a fruit drink, no beer, lots of lawn mowers, tractors and the cover of what looks like a children’s book whose main characters are a grasshopper and an ant. If Meensel-Kiezegem is important in the Eddy Merckx story then it’s not going to be me that points that out. Home town, done.
1945. End of the WWII. Belgium in the war? Not sure but, I do know that birth date makes Eddy a baby boomer. My brother was a baby boomer and got ulcers, Eddy was a baby Boomer and got ulcers, the guy who won a noble peace prize for giving himself ulcers was also a baby boomer. There is a profile emerging here. My guess is none of these people drink Belgium beer. That’s for the next generation, who buy cycling magazines and trawl wikipedia as a prime resource.
The wins. Time to tackle Eddy Merckx winning glory in an effort to understand cycling and his place at the handlebars of its history (no, I’m not serious about that metaphor . The reverence comes from the wins, it seems. What was so special about Merckx’s cycling victories then? You know what? I’m going to have to ask someone who cares. That sounds harsh but, I really don’t know and I’m not into faking it. I’ll ask the guy who asked me to write about Eddy Merckx. He says, “…”