Love from Amsterdam. Download wallpaper here.
By Arun Sood
Living in Amsterdam can do wonders for the intellect, most notably, it improves one’s understanding of the age-old relationship between humans and the bicycle. Meeting and greeting all manner of races, creed and colours of bicycles on a daily basis, my thoughts naturally turned to one of the greatest philosophers that never existed – the enigmatic De Selby.
Upon moving here, the first companion I felt an authentic kinship to was my vintage bicycle. The two of us traveled everywhere together. Joined at the crotch at all hours of the day, we would ride through parks, alleyways and over canals with never one grievance between us. It was an idyllic period to say the least. Like many relationships however, it did not take long for suspicion to take its course.
Things began to change as I suddenly recalled what I had learned from De Selby in Flann O Brien’s brilliant work of fiction ‘The Third Policeman’. The novel is centered around three policemen who have devoted their lives to investigating the misbehaviour of bicycles in their area. While this is their main area of concern, they also involve themselves with equally important issues and dilemmas such as the problems of quantum mechanics and the nature of existence itself. Naturally however, the misbehaviour of bicycles is their priority. The novel is footnoted with the extraordinary explanations of the great philosopher De Selby, who explains – albeit in terms often beyond my personal intellect – much of the occurrences that take place throughout the novel.
De Selby’s seminal work is his ‘Atomic Theory’ in which he explains the basic, concrete fact that bicycles take on human characteristics due to a highly complex exchange of atoms that takes place during the frantic riding of the bicycle. Admittedly, this highly scientific theory has been subject to much criticism yet the unnamed narrator in the novel is quick to account for such probing:
Almost all of the numerous petty litigations in which De Selby was involved afford a salutary example of the humiliations which great minds may suffer when forced to have contact with the pedestrian intellects of the unperceiving laity.
Thus, it would seem that it takes a certain level of intellect to truly understand De Selby’s seminal theory. Once one does however, the world of humans and bicycles become illuminated like never before. For example, when one sees two bicycles leaning up against each other, we should learn to look the other way; after all, its plain rude to ogle at intimate moments. Similarly, if a bike is lying down with flat tires after a good oiling, it would be a preposterous and unforgivable crime to try and take the bicycle home. Even a fool should recognise that such a bicycle would not be fit for such a ride.
However, bicycles are not always the innocent party in this great pancake of life – as proven by some successful attempts in the novel to throw the policeman of their trail and distract them. At one point the Chief Inspector Maccruiskeen is heavily distracted from his duties by a particularly scheming set of wheels:
How desirable her seat was, how charming the invitation of her slim encircling handle-arms, how unaccountably competent and reassuring her pump resting warmly against her rear rim thigh!
Indeed, bicycles are often at their most cunning when we are caught off guard. Just a few weeks ago, it was with great regret that I found my bicycle on top of a pile of many other bicycles of all shapes and sizes, some with rust flaking of them. That is not the end of it however; these bicycles were chained at the chassis and sordidly strapped around each other, wheels interlocking as if it were common practice to behave in such a raucous manner. Needless to say, it was the last time I ever set eyes on that particular bicycle and I only have the great philosopher De Selby to thank for his eternal wisdom which alerted me to such behaviour.
Since moving on, I feel it necessary to urge as many people as possible to read Flann O Brien’s ‘The Third Policeman’. His exploration of de Selby’s illogical permutations of thought will remarkably make sense and provide one with a new outlook on life, making you laugh as you pedal through the motions. Moreover, a failure to read it could ultimately be detrimental to mankind and our relationship to the bicycle.
There are about 700,000 bicycles in Amsterdam. 80,000 are stolen and 25,000 bicycles end up in the canals of Amsterdam each year! I guess I better not get too attached to my bike.