Saturday, November 21, 2009


I have just been visited. By a Christian gentleman. I knew he was a gentleman because he was on a gentleman's mountain bicycle, and although I don't know for certain he was a Christian, he was ugly. He had a shrunken head as if he'd been recently mummified. Half the Christians you meet are ugly: it's why they're Christians in the first place. There were a heap of them in Nottingham when I was young and the university chaplain was the son of the Bishop of Durham and eager to assert the independence of his mind by giving fantastically thought-provoking lectures in the guise of sermons. The congregation overflowed with ugly people in dowdy dresses, along with those who were so old as to be almost dead of course. Whenever he got his father to come and preach the congregation was full of people universally in black with dog-collars on, and they all heckled at the end with polite hatred and he dealt with them swiftly and surely because before he was Bishop of Durham he was a professor of theology and knew more than all of them combined. But it made no difference. They were still half ugly.

My ugly Christian gentleman would have been better off as a museum specimen in the Pitt Rivers museum where they like to specialise in shrunken heads except their shrunken heads are all dead and he was still alive. Anyhow he didn't visit me on account of his unusual head dimensions and what he wanted wasn't to enter a museum. What he wanted was for me to do work for him. He was a businessman and - I'm guessing - ran a B&B.

'I heard about you, and was wondering if you could help. I've got some bikes I keep for my paying guests, and I need someone to do some maintenance on them.'

My heart sank when he said this because I knew what was coming next. What was coming next was that he was far too busy himself, and that the local bike shop had quoted far too much money, and that because they were only cheap bikes, maintenance should cost him next to nothing and that since I seemed a handy man with a spanner maybe I could do the work for him. For which I knew he would offer me sixpence by way of payment.

'Well I'm not quite sure - ' I started to say.
'It would be very easy work. They're only cheap ones, but there's nothing wrong with them. They just need routine servicing.'
'The cost of servicing - '
'I went to Coppins but they were way too expensive.'

Coppins is Motueka's only bike shop. They currently employ Josh who used to be the head boy at the high school. He's a good mechanic and he knows his stuff because he studies it with the extreme interest of youth. When I get stuck I go and consult Josh because he knows how to set up these new-fangled index shifting thingies so that they change gear and not so that they go clickety click all the time which is how I know how to set them up and which is why I don't use them at all.

'I think you'll find,' I said, 'that Coppins isn't expensive. On the whole people run bike shops because they love bikes, not because they're out to make a lot of money.'
'Oh what they quoted was much more than these cheap bikes are worth. They wanted a huge profit. I'd do the maintenance myself of course, but I haven't time - I'm running a business.' I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to be impressed at his knowing how to maintain a bike, or impressed at his being a businessman. I said,
'Servicing a bike is very time-consuming. And it may make a difference whether or not it's a top-end bike because - '
'Oh it's not for servicing my bike. I've got a top end bike alright, but that's mine, not the ones I've got for my guests.'
'What did you pay for it?'
'Over a thousand dollars!'
It's funny how you can tell when people are trying to impress you with how much money they've spent. I thought for a moment what to say next. Last year when I enquired, a 23.5 lbs full suspension carbon mountain bike cost nine thousand dollars locally. I stepped outside: he had a perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle but I could see at a glance that a crowd of people immediately hadn't gathered round to admire it.
'And those for your paying guests?'
'Oh no, they were much cheaper.'
'Well there may be a problem. Cheap bikes are often badly set up and therefore hard to maintain, and the time spent working on them can be much greater. If you buy a very expensive bike, the shop will have set it up perfectly. They make virtually no profit on expensive bikes.'

This is a curious phenomenon about cycle shops. Cheapness and profits are inversely proportional. In the olden days when I lived in England and you could go to Halfords and buy a hundred quid mountain bike, I was told by one of their buyers it would have cost them twenty. But if you went to the local bike shop and spent a thousand quid then their profit would still be eighty quid because they knew that they couldn't break the thousand pound barrier or no-one would buy them at all.

I said,
'I'd be surprised if they made a huge profit on maintaining your bikes. Their mechanics charge a pittance compared with what you'll pay to have your car serviced. You see, I charge two hundred and eighty dollars an hour because I do experimental work and write it up for magazines. You probably can't afford that.'
I was lying of course, and quite outrageously at that, but sometimes you have to lie when you bump into shrunken-headed Christian businessmen who aren't prepared to support other local businesses. I don't charge two hundred and eighty dollars an hour for anything at all because nothing I do is worth it. I plucked the figure out of the air. (And here's a useful tip: if you're going to lie, make the lie a really, really big one because then people will be more likely to believe you.) And I don't write anything up for magazines any more because
a) magazines don't pay anything at all these days and
b) magazines aren't interested in 'experimental work'. (Home-made recumbents, to you and me.) They're interested in sycophantic reviews of expensive commercial stuff because that way they can collect advertising revenue, which is why if you read a detailed report in a magazine on Swarovski binoculars, you will (I guarantee it) find a glossy advertisement about Swarovski on the opposite page, and should you read the article carefully you will find not a single sentence that isn't full of praise and gush. (Not that I object to Swarovski optics. I have several. They're very good. 'Very good' is as far as I can manage in the sycophantic gush line, but even so I should be grateful if they will now send me sixpence for saying so. Thank you very much.)

So my ugly Christian gentleman got on his top-end thousand dollar (that's about ₤300) perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle and rode away a trifle disgruntled, and must now rely on the efficacy of prayer to find someone who will do the work for 0 dollars an hour. And I have to stop writing this blog entry for 0 dollars an hour because I must get on my not-top-end experimental (home-made) recumbent bicycle and go to the dentist who does charge two hundred and eighty dollars an hour, mostly to shrink my head by drilling holes in it, though probably not enough to warrant Pitt Rivers status. And who rides a $280 mountain bike. Which he bought at the Warehouse. Which I shall decline to maintain, should I be asked.


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