The Hottle Bottle and the Gay Gordons

Alex Darcy is 47, lives in Suffolk with wife Jane, daughter Emma, 14, and son James, 10, and wonders how life got so . . . baffling

A velocipede

for Christmas

Alex Darcy is 47, lives in Suffolk with wife Jane, daughter Emma, 14, and son James, 10, and wonders how life got so . . . baffling

JAMES would like a bike for Christmas. I know that because he posted his wish-list on Facebook. Actually, I made that last bit up for dramatic and semi-comic effect, but I bet there are children exposing their potential vulnerability in the darker corners of the web.

But it's true he would like a new bike: one of those BMX-type things with funny pegs on the front wheel that you somehow put your feet on when doing pirouettes or something equally hazardous. In my day - only slightly post-boneshaker, in bicycling terms - Choppers were all the rage. You wouldn't attempt a stunt on one of those - not if you harboured dreams of fatherhood in later years. They were a real Frankenstein contraption: appearing to be made out of random spare parts and looking like a cross between an unco-ordinated giraffe and a gangly impala. Darned cool, though, in the light of the 1970s - one of those decades that taste passed by.

James isn't one for death-defying manoeuvres - he talks a good game, but intuitive caution mitigates against obviously-dangerous activities - but he does rather like posing. A sleek new bike, a full-face helmet he's spotted in Halfords (matt black and motocross-style) and a pair of silver gloves is the image locked in his mind.

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“But you've already got a bike,” I whine, in default setting. He has - but that metallic green-and-purple Magna Alien gathering dust in the garage is Lilliputian. When did he grow so tall - or when did the bike shrink? It seems only five minutes ago that he learned to ride on it in a single afternoon, by starting at the top of a concrete mound on the local bike park, freewheeling down, and pedalling away as he reached the grass.

He's long been using Emma's old purple and grey Magna Nevada. It seems only six minutes since we bought that, hanging it from the garage roof-beams while she grew into it. Now she pinches her mum's light blue Raleigh with wicker baskets fore and aft.

We are, I realise as I peer through the gloom of the garage, rather over-endowed in the velocipede department: a two-car family of four with eight bikes between them. Along with the three already mentioned, there's Jane's aged Free Spirit that she had when she lived in the States, a little second-hand pinky bike that none of the kids ever rode, a tiny steed hanging from the rafters that similarly missed its moment, my silvery mountain bike (in Suffolk?!) and the crowning glory of my black, sit-up-and-beg, handbuilt-in-Holland Cyrus.

Actually, it's nine, if you include my pedal-like-crazy-but-get-nowhere exercise bike - which is the one I really need to saddle-up each evening.

What with all the orphaned furniture, it's no wonder we can never find anything in the garage, or squeeze in any more detritus.

“Darling,” trills Jane, breaking my reverie. I look around, but it seems she's speaking to me. “I'd love a fold-up bike for Christmas. It would be so useful whenever I go into town.”

I sigh like the air escaping from a perished old tyre. “We'll have to apply the Roy Keane strategy, then.” She looks blank. “Well, he's already got a big squad at Ipswich Town; when he wants another footballer, he has to sell one first, apparently . . . Who do you want to transfer: the mountain bike or the Free Spirit?”