27 September 2018
Ghost bicycles, the bicycle
blues, bikes on the beach,
and nine million bicycles
If there are nine million bicycles in Beijing, then it seems there are nine million bicycles in Amsterdam, Berlin, Cambridge, Dublin, and many other cities and towns I visit.
My reflection last week on the death of Paul Nelson, who had developed the Phoenix Bicycle in Dublin in the 1980s brought me to reflect on the way white bicycles or ghost bicycles have come to be used as tributes to cyclists who die tragically in traffic, but also awakened me to how I have built up a collection of photographs from my travels throughout Ireland and England, and further afield.
Bicycles in Cambridge:
A sign placed on railings on No 12 Portugal Place in 2015 upset many classicists in Cambridge. Reports said the owners of the building were so perturbed by the number of bicycles left chained to the railings by students that they erected an angry sign in both classical Greek and Latin.
The notice was intended to warn cyclists that all bicycles would be ‘removed or destroyed.’ However, it seems the sign-writer might have benefitted from some further tutoring. Despite appearing to be the work of a well-educated person, critics quickly pointed out that the wording includes a number of mistakes.
Dr Rupert Thompson of Selwyn College, a classics lecturer, said: ‘It’s trying to say, “bicycles left here will be destroyed”.’ But he pointed out that the second word on the sign, ληφθεντεσ, actually means ‘taken’ not ‘left.’ In other words, bicycles taken here will be destroyed.
‘It’s definitely trying to be ancient Greek but it’s not quite,’ he told the BBC. He said both lines of the Greek inscription use the wrong letters. ‘I don’t know what to make of it really, but it’s very amusing and it’s absolutely great to see this in the city.’
Professor Mary Beard of Newnham College, a leading Cambridge and international classicist, said the Latin – Duae rotae hic relictae perimentur – may be correct, but she pointed out that it translates literally as ‘two wheels left abandoned here will be removed.’
Students were critical too and said the sign was pompous, elitist and patronising. Bicycles continued to be chained to the railings in defiance – or in ignorance – of the intended meaning of the sign.
Others might have pointed out that Greek speakers are available in plentiful supply in Cambridge: Saint Clement’s hosted the Greek Orthodox parish for many years, while Sidney Sussex College, the annual venue for the summer school of the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, is just two or three minutes walking distance.
A sign at a bank on Sidney Street, Cambridge, says: ‘Cycles, Motor Scooters Etc must not be parked in front of this night safe machine.’ Obviously, it has little effect, and parked bicycles make the sign difficult to read even in the day time.
Seen in Dublin
Bikes for Greeks
And travelling further afield:
And if you think it difficult to imagine how someone could cycle on the beach at Platanes on that bicycle in Rethymon, I have actually seen people cycling on the beach in Bettystown, Co Meath, in winter weather: