I’ve been using FourSquare and TwitPic to look back through 2012. It’s been a pretty amazing year for me. I’ve been to India, spoken at a dozen conferences, photographed the moon, and got a lovely new job.
But none of that – not one single experience – compares to May 30, 2012. That was the day the madness ended.
One of the perils of being human is that we look for patterns. Our brains are hard-wired to try and recognise useful patters. This leads to Pareidolia – the ability to spot faces in random objects.
It also forces some of us to obsess over patterns. To look for meaningful sequences in random numbers. For me, it lead to the dangerous world of Bike Spotting. You may think train-spotters are a bunch of sad and lonely freaks – but they’re just amateurs compared to your average bike spotter.
It started innocently enough. I noticed that the public bikes in London all had serial numbers.
Yeah, runs of numbers were pretty sweet. I started reading signs into the numbers.
It wasn’t enough! I became obsessed with finding the most mythical of beasts. Bike 12345. It had to be out there somewhere!
My obsession drove me mad. I couldn’t walk by a bike stand without carefully examining every serial number. If you don’t know London – there are a hell hell of a lot of bike stands. I would deliberately take a longer walk into work, just to check out the stands in the surrounding area.
My frustration mounted.
It hurt. I don’t mind telling you. I was late for appointments because I was loitering by the racks. I got funny looks from strangers as I rushed up to ther bikes, only to be crushed by disappointment.
Then, the unexpected happened. I got a job outside of London. There were only a few weeks left for me to spot the perfect bike. I knew that once I left, my desire would fade, and I’d never capture the glorious beast. I redoubled my effort. London, cruel mistress that she is, was determined to thwart me.
I traipsed all around London, dashing from pinion to post – all, it seemed, in vain.
It was a few days before I was due to leave London. My wife had rightly chided me for dawdling the night before. We were trying to catch a train and I was busy inspecting numbers outside Waterloo. It’s no exaggeration when I say that my unhealthy fixation was tugging at the very bonds of our marriage.
That morning, I skipped past my usual bike ranks. I purposefully ignored them. I heard their plaintive cries – and I looked the other way. One by one, they faded into the background.
By the time I approached my office, I was shaking. It was all too much for me. I had failed and knew that the process of cold turkey would be painful.
My offices were by the Royal Courts of Justice. Murdoch and his cabal had been receiving their grilling by Robert Jay, the air was thick with the promise of revolution. The local bike stand was half empty. I glanced down. I’m sorry my love, I just couldn’t help it. Just one more time. One more then I’m done. That’s all I need, a single glance….
I closed my eyes and counted to… well… five.
I fell to my knees. Years of searching had suddenly come to an end. I felt curiously empty and satisfied at the same time. A million emotions filled my mind – yet my head was clear.
A single beautiful thought pierced the miasma. I was free.
Never again would I feel the uncontrollable urge to glance at a stranger’s bike as they waited patiently at the traffic lights. No more dragging my heals waiting to see what numbers rolled up at a stand. I could walk through London with impunity.
My journey was over and life could begin again.