Ron is 56. On his good days he’s a young 56-year-old or at least he’s a 56-year-old without a paunch and who still has his hair, which amounts to much the same thing. People used to liken him to David Essex until Essex got old whence he was described as looking like a young David Essex. Ron was married until eight years ago to Kathy. Unfortunately Kathy finally tired of his intermittent habit of staying in bed all day for weeks at a time and not eating. He’s been single since Kathy left and, on account of the fact that he rarely leaves the house, has remained so. You don’t get much of a chance to meet people between his flat and the newspaper shop. And besides, ‘little Ron’ seems to have given up the ghost years ago anyway. Ron lives on his own in a flat on the outskirts of the city. He has a daughter, Chloe, and Chloe has a son, David, who is 17. David sleeps around Ron’s when he’s been smoking pot or drinking and so he sees his grandson quite a lot.
Ron worked in a bank for nearly 20 years until they too got a bit funny about him staying in bed for weeks at a time. He was a personal account manager and, when he wasn’t hiding in a dark room with the curtains closed, was very good at his job. He hasn’t worked for four years now. On the plus side this means he has one less thing to feel guilty about when he’s on a bad day, but on the negative side the only person he ever sees is his hung-over grandson, and Dave and Jackie, Ron’s next-door neighbours.
Ron was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder a number of years ago after he was sectioned for taking photographs of the people who were following him around Bristol. He told the police that Kathy would explain that they were probably secret service, but she didn’t and instead he spent two weeks in an inpatient facility watching aggravated people chain smoking through a fug of Olanzapine and Lorazepam. Just recently Ron has been on his way back from one of his more severe depressions. Days of endlessly watching reruns of Ice Road Truckers and Top Gear, and binning letters from debt recovery agencies, were central to Ron’s transitional process towards fresh air, walks, watching his beloved Bristol Rovers and even putting in an appearance for the Anchor’s pool team. He’s still a bit shaky and prone to some very bad days but at the moment the good are outnumbering the bad. His bad days consist of trying to figure out which motor disease is currently causing his shaking hands as a way of avoiding listing his top five methods of killing himself, together with pros and cons. On those days he feels nothing but an agony of emptiness that makes him want to double over in pain. His good days are pretty much anything other than this.
When he’s struggling, the utter silence and emptiness of his house allows no distractions from the job at hand, which is summoning up the strength to finally choose one of whatever suicide methods are top of the list that week. When he starts to breathe again though, that house suddenly feels very, very empty.
And it was during one period where Ron was starting to emerge from a particularly prolonged and savage bout of misery that he came across something unusual. He was starting to regain his appetite which meant that he had to go out and get some food. As he opened his door and the sun bounced off his squinting eyes, he second guessed whether this food run was a day or two too early. But he pushed himself on anyway. On the way back from the supermarket he saw a flyer in the library for a local project called ‘Bike Minded’ which, from what he could see, was a cycling project for ‘people who have experienced or are living with mental health problems’. As he hadn’t cycled for over 30 years, he was unsure what it was about the advert that caught his attention. A few weeks ago the idea of being on a bike talking to people would have been hell on earth; now it suddenly contained some mystery appeal. Ron was unsure of the old maxim ‘you never forget how to ride a bike’. In his case he was more worried about his shorts bursting under the strain of his aging frame, or falling under a car. There would have been times when that would have been preferable but not right now.
So he called them up, and they explained they could help him to get a bike to just get around (which he needed) and invited him on one of the rides. And there was no commitment. The lady he spoke to explained that he could just come for one ride or come along to further rides if he found that he liked it. On the morning of his first ride he was nervous. He’d fished out some old cycling shorts and an over-tight football top. Dave, his friend next door, asked him if anyone unusual had told him to dress like that. Ron understood what he was getting at and explained that his unusual choice of clothing wasn’t the result of a new psychosis, but instead a new local bike group he was going to. Dave said he thought that was a great idea.