Jemima Coleman had gone into the City to find a rich husband. After her father, a broker, had bought her an internship at URB Wealth Management and with a CV that included boarding at Stowe (tagged the “Early Learning Centre” by rival Etonians), a third-class degree in cultural studies at Leeds University and a four-month break chilling in Corfu to recover from the unbearable pressure of finals, she was a shoo-in for a job as a PA.
However, the pretty Sloane Ranger was dismayed to discover that working in the Square Mile did not bring her the immediate riches she had been expecting. In fact, her dismal salary barely covered the rent on her Notting Hill flat-share, the WiFi and dry-cleaning bills and her nightly bottle of Pinot Grigio. If it hadn’t been for her monthly allowance from Daddy, she wouldn’t have been able to survive. Even so, she was reduced to buying her make-up from Superdrug, her clothes from Topshop and commuting by Tube, which she begrudged. She hated the crowds, the noise and the smells.
It was her boss, the good-looking thirtysomething Harry Cowie, who suggested she should do as he did and cycle to work. This seemed sensible to her on several counts – it would save her money, keep her trim and help her into Harry’s arms. It was also fashionable. It was not so much the Olympian Victoria Pendleton and her Lycra-clad colleagues that were an inspiration, but the likes of Helena Christensen, Gwyneth Paltrow and Florence Welch, who were making the velocipede voguish. She persuaded her father that life in town was simply impossible without a £545 Pashley Princess with a wicker basket and old‑fashioned bell – although her attempts to persuade her flatmates to think of it as an art installation in the sitting room fell on deaf ears. Nor did the other residents agree to a wheeled booby-trap in the narrow hall.
During those first weeks, when Jemima would unlock her sit-up-and-beg from the railings outside the house and begin the pedal to work, the experience was more terrifying than any dorm inspection by her old housemistress. She wobbled down the Bayswater Road, taxis driving within an inch of her handlebars. She likened the click of car doors, which might open suddenly in front of her, to the sound of a gun being cocked. She was chased by dogs in Hyde Park, asked by numerous lorry drivers if she thought she was “effing Miss Marple” and, on one occasion, the driver of a car stopped next to her at the traffic lights squirted her with his deliberately angled windscreen washers.
One morning, just as she was growing in two-wheel confidence, she found her bicycle D-lock laying like a broken handcuff at the bottom of the railings with no Bobbin attached to it. Her “wheels” had been stolen. Jemima could not afford a replacement and, rather than return to the grim life of Tube travel, she opted to commute on a Boris bike instead, a rack of which were parked by Portobello Road.
The bikes, unlike her Bobbin, were the weight of a small shed with more pig iron than a nuclear submarine. Pushing off required a monumental burst of energy – Jemima worried that her thighs would end up bulging like Sir Chris Hoy’s – but once on the flat the machine trundled along in a stately fashion like an elderly tram.
The drawback, however, was that Jemima now found it was non-Boris-bike cyclists that zipped past her, cut her up and engaged in patronising conversation at the lights. And one in particular, a courier in Lycra on a racing bike, seemed to cross her path most days, showing off at the lights by jiving his body while keeping his feet in the pedals.
One morning, when Jemima was pushing her Boris bike into its stand outside her office, her nemesis jumped off his bike and embarrassed her by strolling through the entrance to URB alongside her. But he was not, as she had thought, one of the rough and ready cycling messengers that Jemima had to deal with on a regular basis as a PA, but rather a well-bred Old Etonian who not only worked in the same company as she did, but was also Harry Cowie’s boss. Jemima had finally located her rich husband.