In her early sixties Fiona Sinclair decided to become a ‘biker-chick’. Despite the disapproval of her friends and her own anxieties, she suddenly found herself in ‘full biker armour’, doing a ton down the M2, the wind in her hair, learning to lean into the corners.
Greedy Cow is a book about new lovers and old habits, first dates and second chances, Espresso highs and gourmet sex, in which riding pillion is a metaphor for the risks of love and desire in middle-age – speed, danger and reckless adventure, his ‘Steve McQueen cool’, and her ‘disobedient body’.
Author photo: Kim Marsden
Cover image: Derek Sellen
Mid-winter morning I lug bloated bags through the door, still frowning from encounters with mums and their toddlers, unruly as puppies, to be greeted by ‘Shouldn’t have left me alone’, your laptop displaying a motorcycle for sale whose retro looks stirs memories of past bike loves, and ‘is a steal’. Suddenly, all previous tutting at middle aged men on bikes ‘They can’t handle’, mutterings of ‘Trying to recapture their youth’ are forgotten. Replaced now by ‘It will help my back’, ‘Get me exercising’. But I have known by the way you ogle bikes in car parks, this is an itch you must scratch. By Friday it is parked outside. First fine day you armour up in a leather jacket reinforced like a knight’s brigandine, select a private road at the rear of the house to get to grips with: ‘wing mirrors all wrong’, ‘brakes on the wrong side’. I tip toe up the path, peep through a crack in the fence as you go through the protocol of ‘lid’ on, then Raybans, under which disguise, you time travel back to your 20s. You mount, and after decades out of the saddle, roar off down the road with Steve McQueen cool, leaving me behind. And jealousy abrades at this old passion rekindled, as if I have reluctantly agreed to an infidelity, because I have nothing comparable in my past to give me this Woo Hoo! high. Dancing once, perhaps, but not now with my disobedient body. Suddenly, I understand why those Whitstable women don wet suits and take to wild swimming with whoops, rather than seek their thrills amongst the WI. I retrace down the path, noting the garden chores that are pending, to coffee and online solitaire.
You must trust him, he knows what he is doing. So I wrench my eyes from on-coming cars, avert my gaze as buses scrape past us, look at the sky whilst you negotiate doddery cycle riders, allowing you to lead me in this riotous quick step. Until, an argy bargy with white vans on roundabouts, I simply smile and shrug He’ll sort it, giggle as at traffic lights we weave past stationary four-wheel drives, as if waved through like VIPs. Follow his shoulder line on corners and, at first, I talk myself through each curve as if to a nervous child, but over time given the snakey or dual carriage way option, I chose the Herne Bay twists that over the weeks we take lower and faster like our personal TT. And sometimes we blast up the M2 doing a ton, wind rattling my lid, battering my jacket, in the wing mirrors, grinning at each other in cahoots.
She has a retro glamour. Your What do you think of her? is deaf to my response, and Shall we go and have a look? rhetorical, so I know that I have competition on my hands. To be fair, you say that you won’t purchase unless I ride pillion. As a teenager I was warned against rough biker boys who were as dangerous as their machines, so have never even sat on a bike. So you construct a mock-up with stool, chair, sofa arm; instruct me in the protocol of mounting. I sit astride. Would you feel comfortable on that? I nod, forgetting that this cycle simulator is not moving at 80mph. You joke about joining gentlemen of a certain age, previously tutted at for trying to recapture their youth on thoroughbred bikes they don’t know how to handle. Now, you buy T shirts with slogans, complicit in the lark of old bikers returning to the saddle. And just as I followed you onto planes to daredevil destinations, friends purse their lips as you get me, at 60, on the back of this bike, and from the off, what was meant to be your affair becomes a ménage, as I watch the weekly weather report for the next fine days, and our holidays hijacked, we hop on the bike and race out of lock down.
Our diaries are torn up that March. Your internet searches to find some way to mark my 60th are all dead ends. But, in the two months since you got the motorbike, I have learned to take corners so low I could tag the tarmac, compensate for shunts at junctions and lights by leaning back against the sissy bar, adjust my position when pot-holes wind, with a wriggle, even chat at raucous night club volume, as we motor along. So, I decide a blast down to Margate, for chips and ice cream on the seafront, is gi enough, because your coaxing me at 60, on the back of a motor bike, is the new adventure, every bit as exotic as my eyes scaling the great pyramids, and still part of you, pivoting my life 360 degrees.
Friends shake their heads, take in breaths, Well you’d never get me on the back of one, shuddered anecdotes of broken bodies and worse. Same tuts as when we chose to holiday in Istanbul, over Ithaka, Have you got a death wish? As if bombs went off as regularly as Adhams. But this year has reminded me how catastrophe can career around the corner and collide head on with the most demur of lives. So, always wearing bikers’ full armour, we cruise off down to Margate, for ice cream on the sea wall, then back intime for Father Brown on the telly. Although I confess that on curfew quiet country roads I dare myself to outstretch arms, then squeal as you join me, and we motor along in bird flight simulation.
Whenever health scares and other nasties stick their feet out, you reassure me that I have a stake in your good luck now. And since this is your only fortune, just the idea of you wanting to gift a portion to me, moves me more than roses or rubies. Consequently, over the last few years, I have felt untouchable as a king’s favourite. So, as you try to compensate for my tumbleweed past, I ride your slip stream with a whoop, whilst we swash-buckle off, or at home curl up in your life like a rescue spaniel. And we have retuned our lives to each other’s wave lengths, with political parries, daft jokes and cheering on Liverpool. But I think, too, that like the gratis boat you got off Freecycle and the genuine Raybans you found in a second-hand car, I too have dropped into your world like an Autumn windfall.
What with your back and my balance, we puff and pause for breath on the lanes that ascend to the Suleymaniye Mosque, which locals promise us is superior to the Blue Mosque we spent five minutes in, shrugged, and walked out. Finally, through an ancient archway, we find it is not bloated like the ‘Blue’. So the eye can take in whole: the full breasted dome, minarets cuffed by pretty fretwork, the smaller cupolas that grow down the escarpment like a crop of giant button mushrooms, and the adjacent cemetery with tombstones thin as Biscoff biscuits. But to the right is its trump card. Our eyes widen like a camera lens as the voila view unveils itself; a cinemascope of Istanbul, east and west married by suspension bridges. Our heads pan the busy Bosphorus, as it meets the sea of Marmara, where boats back up to the horizon like a waiting armada. Suddenly the mosque’s adhan rings out, triggering hundreds of others that peal across both banks of the city like human bells, the sound taps on my soul’s shoulder, and tears openly dribble down my face. We embrace like a couple on an anniversary card And, given the choice, I would edit down the rest of my life to live in the still of this moment.
‘Fiona Sinclair is a force to be reckoned with: a poet whose voice is instantly recognizable and one who has mapped out her own terrain. Touching, comic, feisty, Sinclair’s poems are distinguished by their no-nonsense authenticity and hard-won insights. A wonderfully accessible collection that wears its wisdom lightly.’
David Cooke, The High Window
‘Heartwarming and jaw-dropping in equal measures, these poems invite the reader onto the rollercoaster ride of adrenaline and emotion that is finding love in later life. A pure delight from beginning to happy ending.’
Mary Anne Smith Sellen