One time in the two-thousands when I was a student – not a struggling one, but a student all the same – and I’d spent all my money on drink and on a stupid haircut and I was sick of walking everywhere, I decided I wanted a bike. This was in the days when you could withdraw five pound notes from the cash machine on the Leicester Uni campus because the difference between having an extra fiver in your account and having it in your pocket was a big one. Crucial even, because the student overdrafts were interest free, but if you went over the limit you got charged thirty quid or something. So we were borrowing money left, right and centre but never more than the bank had agreed to, because going over the limit was what they wanted you to do, am I right? And with this bike thing in my mind I was walking down a street, I don’t know why – by which I mean, I don’t remember why I was walking down that particular street because it wasn’t near my house, or work or Uni so why I was there is a mystery – the point being I saw a bike propped up outside a charity shop. I went inside and had a chat with the lady. She was kind of like a charity shop lady because she was old and had a mauve sweatshirt with a big embroidered collar (this is the two-thousands, remember, not the nineteen-eighties) but she was more switched on and kind-of bulkier than the usual charity shop type and she had a deep old ladies’ liver-spotty tan. Anyway, she said the bike was eleven pounds. I had eleven pounds but it was all I had, but still, it seemed like a bargain. So from inside the shop, which really stunk by the way, I looked out the window to where this bike was propped up and thought, I’m going to do this. Then I went outside and prodded the tires. They seemed firm. I don’t know a thing about bikes so I didn’t check anything else, but it all seemed fair enough. So I went back inside and paid her eleven pounds and she said thank you.
I went outside and handled the bike and was thinking I’d have to get a lock for it and that I didn’t have any money for the next two days so it’d have to wait in the house until then. I went to ride it and, honestly I was twenty then, and five-foot ten, and as I sat astride it I realised that, actually, this bike was built for a large child. I sat on the seat and my knees were level with my elbows, nearly. I stood again thinking to myself you stupid fucking prat, who buys a bike without sitting on it? But I wasn’t letting the eleven quid go. I’d spent it and I was getting my money’s worth. I was being completely nutty actually, thinking oh I’ll get a really tall seat for it or something. What a prat I was – get a seat. So, adding to the picture I was wearing a denim mini-skirt that day, I sat on the bike and proceeded to ride it half way home, kneeing my own arms as I peddled, before I decided it was stupid and turned around to go and ask for my money back. When I asked Charity Shop Lady for my eleven pounds back she said no. Absolutely no hesitation. She said I could donate the bike if I no longer needed it but there was no way I was getting a refund. And oops, embarrassing, but I didn’t take no for an answer. Now this is becoming the tale of when I begged for money in a charity shop, not the day I bought a bike without sitting on it. It’s a bit gross really. Well, I say begged for money, I’d rather say that I haggled with old mauve-top. I said, you know, it had been less than and hour since I was here, let’s be reasonable, and I hadn’t realised it was so small when I’d first looked at it, that I was a student etc. And in the end she gave me a fiver and said I should be ashamed of myself. True story.