It was with weight, or rather the control of it in mind, that I decided to get myself a bicycle.
You may recall I hand carried a bike back from UK for Alex last June. You can't buy decent bikes here. The only ones you can get are made in China and are festooned with all the extras a kid doesn't need (Shimano look alike 21 speed gears that don't actually do anything?). Of course everything that doesn't fall off these bikes doesn't work anyway and instead quietly corrode. And for such small bikes, they weigh a tonne. Kids here rarely get to learn to ride a bike but they are very good at rolling bits of them such as wheel rims down the road under the control of sticks.
Alex's bike was made in Birmingham (that's the large Muslim controlled city in England for our American readers, not Birmingham, Alabama) out of aluminium, so it was both strong and light. It needs replacing not because it has broken through the very hard use it has suffered, but because Alex has outgrown it already.
My search for bikes, therefore, commenced not with trying to find a couple of decent bikes, they are quite common in civilised countries, but with working out how to get them here. DHL UK quoted me over £600 per bike. After a lengthy and entertaining exchange with Lufthansa, which served to prove that Germans do not read emails, just react to key words so having initially concluded I was trying to ship a live animal, then quoted over 600 euros per bike but then informed me that they could not ship non-commercial items so could I please confirm that the bicycles were not for personal use.
In the end it was my brother in Germany who came to the rescue suggesting I just stuck them in the post. I can see those of you familiar with Angola smiling derisively and my reaction to his suggestion was indeed somewhat deprecating.
'But DHL is Deutsche Post,' he said, skin as thick as rhino hide 'and you can track your parcel all the way.'
Well, it was worth investigating.
German websites are notoriously difficult to use. The Germans maintain they are logical in layout. So are Qwerty keyboards but using one for the first time is still bloody frustrating. Sure enough, about three hundred clicks later, I found a page on which it was stated with Teutonic confidence that Deutsche Paket Dienst parcels could be tracked from the point at which they entered their system to the hands of the recipient. The package size limits were generous, as were the weight allowances and, considering that they claimed a delivery time to Angola of a week, meaning the parcels must come by air, they were ludicrously cheap. So I decided to give them a go.
Sitting in my brother's study was a 60x60x60 cm box weighing fifteen kilos containing ABS wet cast swimming pool coping stone moulds. They came from a company in Bristol called Airforme and, as far as I can tell, Airforme is the only company in the world who make wet cast moulds for traditional pool coping stones. The moulds weren't cheap at £325 and they were no good to me in Germany, but I had yet to find a way of getting them to me in Angola for less than the usual Monkey (£500). The UK courier had charged Airforme, who passed the cost on to me, £165 just to get the box from Bristol to Stuttgart. DHL Paket International wanted £80 to send the same box all the way to Angola. For eighty quid they'd get it here in a week and I could track it all the way. Too good to be true?
I thought so after I logged onto their tracking service and saw the package was in Kuba, and that DHL were having difficulty delivering it to a Maria Pirez. Considering that the package had only been handed in to DHL Paket in Germany that afternoon, this was bloody good going, even if in completely the wrong direction.
Micky complained to DHL and was told to send them the invoice for the contents and they would refund the value under the terms of their guarantee. Damn decent but I decided to wait and see. Sure enough, the next morning tracking confirmed that the package had 'been incorrectly addressed' and it instantly reappeared in Germany. Six days later Marcia, to whom the package had been addressed, received a text message from the Central (and only) Post Office in Luanda telling her a package had arrived from Germany. Brilliant. The thing is, given the time frame and the fact it was tracked through Frankfurt, it must have come in on a Lufthansa flight!
The system tested to my satisfaction, time to find the bikes. I would have liked to buy the bikes from the same company from which I bought Alex's bike but since DHL UK, or any other UK courier, for that matter, cannot offer anything even approaching the service from DHL Paket in Germany clearly it made sense to buy from a German bike dealer. German kid's bikes are hopeless. They are so safe, they are no fun at all. For a start, winding the pedals backwards applies a rear brake which, if you are not used to it, launches the rider over the handlebars and makes any kind of trick riding impossible. And, let's face it, give a boy a bike and he is quickly going to work out the most dangerous unintended way of riding it he can. That's the whole point of having a bike. Then there are all the chain guards, padding and goodness knows what else, which make the thing look like a kindergarten toy, which is I guess, what it is supposed to be. Even in UK it is quite hard to find a 'real' mountain bike with 20 inch wheels and a frame to match. Dawes, the Birmingham company make them but the vast majority of manufacturers seem to think that 'for Kids' means 'Cheap and Nasty'.
After spending an evening fruitlessly surfing German suppliers and having made my mind up to buy a Dawes for Alex and have it delivered to a mate in UK for it to await the next visit to England of Micky, I trawled around the Deutsche web looking for a bike for me. In seconds I found one. It was the right size, the right price and the right weight. It was a tadge more than I intended to spend but the extra cost for exotic alloy meant less kilos and a saving on postage. I realise that this argument justifying a cooler bike had been somewhat eroded by the efficiency and cost effectiveness of Deutsche DHL Paket Dienst, but what the hell, I am spoiling myself in a good cause. But then the German website dropped a bombshell. You could get Daddy's bike in exactly the same specification, with the same Gucci chain set and gears, the same light alloy frame, the same colour scheme, in every way identical but the size, They would do Alex a bike like mine, but with 20 inch wheels and a frame to suit!
'Marcia!' I called, 'you are whining about being fat, do you want a bike as well?'
'Nem pensar!' she said. OK, I won't think about it I thought as I wrote to the supplier to ask for an invoice.
This is Daddy's bike. It is big and made by Bull.
I shall call myself 'Big Bull'
This is Alex's bike. It is small and also made by Bull.
I shall call him 'Little Bull'
Mummy didn't want a bike.
We shall call her 'Sitting Bull'