On a TV programme, set in the 1980s, they showed some kids doing something I did in the 1960s; when we rode our bikes around the back streets of the northern industrial town where I grew up.
We would use clothes pegs to clip playing cards to the rear of the frame, so that as the back wheel revolved, the card flapped against the spokes.
This, we were convinced, made our mighty steeds sound like motorbikes, like junior Hells Angels, a moral panic of the time, racing round our neighbourhood.
We wanted to be strong, dangerous, and powerful. We wanted to be grown-up, like teenagers, who were then divided into Mods and Rockers. For us the Rockers, with long, greasy hair, and leather jackets were the most rebellious; like the Rolling Stones, who my big cousin Edward had posters of on his bedroom walls.
And we were like them. We WERE them – on our tiny bicycles. We felt like a gang. Although we were only maybe nine years old at the time, in our imaginations, at least, we WERE a gang!
We were flying, through the air – light, ethereal, spiritual. It reminds me now, of Ariel, in Shakespeare’s “The tempest”: “be’t to fly, to dive into the fire, to ride on the curl’d clouds.”
With youthful limbs, that worked, that were strong, able to move, to power, to pedal. It set me off, following French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, on a Poetics of Reverie, with the force of daydream.
Along with Marcel Proust, a “Remembrance of things past”, we are able to recollect (indeed we ‘re-collect’) the scattered fragments of our memory.
Thus we also redeem our history, and realise that, beside the loneliness, and the bullying, there were also, admittedly brief, micro-moments of pure joy.
These draw us beyond the quotidian phenomenal world, into the boundlessness of the noumenal. In this way, we touched, within the immanent, a might of transcendence we had hardly glimpsed.
Our small town reality was rendered larger than our restricted experience could really allow, through the power of our enfleshed imagination.
Pointing beyond ourselves, through shared, collective, childhood, feelings, we tasted, and can still taste, through reminiscence, the shape of the ‘something more’.
Phenomenologist, Jean-Luc Marion, advances his theory of ‘saturated experiences’, identified by him with works of art and, supremely, the Roman Catholic Mass.
These are undoubtedly human events, which nevertheless indicate something beyond themselves. They are dependent on a wider canvas of meaning, for their own significance.
We may as well add also, the Pentecostal all-night prayer vigil, with swoonings, and prostrations; but equally, me and my mates riding our bikes along the ‘backs’ outside our house where we lived.
It’s missing in today’s city, where fears over road safety, plus the absence of open spaces, prevented my own children from exploring their local streets as a fantastical urban velodrome.
Something is lost. Does the narrow physical horizon of London shut out the transcendent impulse, and prevent the reaching out towards expanse?