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Cycles of every kind are the medicine dispensed by Doctor COLIN GUTHRIE.
I GP. A number-plate to be proud of, and it's on the most distinctive doctor's vehicle in Glasgow. Mine. But not your usual GP wagon. Not some voluptuous Volvo, but a beautiful black George Longstaff tricycle, a real triumph of cycle engineering. The quality really does remain long after the price is forgotten.
My wife and partner Eleanor has a white Longstaff Trike, and her number-plate is, of course, GP2.
We believe we are the only GPs in Britain who are completely carless. (Editor's note: in the UK a GP is a doctor in General Practice) We have used bikes and trikes at work for over ten years and sold our last car some three years ago. Life has been so much more honest and exciting since then.
I have always had a fondness for unusual bikes. Some have been a success whilst a few have been total turkeys. Trikes are a great success, glorious machines which are much underused and misunderstood. They suffer from being expensive and difficult for many people to ride at first. They are slower but are so much safer in today's unforgiving traffic. Trikes are extremely manoeuvrable, surprisingly good at nipping through small gaps, and ace load-carriers.
We are a training practice for students from Glasgow University, and this involves taking students on house visits. I have requested that we be sent cyclists but some still turn up on foot or even in a motor. I therefore have to rig up the tandem tricycle with sometimes a trailer in order to transport them around. A tandem trike must be the most versatile of vehicles. A complete novice can cycle on the back, and all sorts of trailers can be rigged at the rear. My two third-year students are often rather apprehensive, but they soon enter into the spirit of things. I'm thinking of ordering a tricycle triplet soon from George Longstaff in Ashton-under-Lyme where his team work their metal magic.
The final-year students come along for two months of the year, and by the time they leave, they will, I hope, have learned about Family Medicine, and they will certainly be accomplished tricyclists. Last year, Joanna from Gourock was a tandem pin-up in my weekly Dr Feelgood page in the Scottish Sun. By the end of her month she was leaning sweetly into corners, synchronising her pedal rhythms with mine and letting out whoops of joy as we dived amongst the traffic with aplomb and sailed serenely round the tightest of corners. I was really sad to see her go
The Longstaff single trike with heavy-duty axle also effortlessly doubles as a taxi for one student. I just have to open the carrying box at the back. They sit there comfortably with legs to rear and off we go.
But the students who are real cyclists find themselves in pedalling heaven; their month is spent mostly in the saddle visiting patients who live miles from the surgery. I give out my medical wisdom as we cruise from one visit to the next or when we stop to eat in some cafe.
I make sure all these students learn that environmental and behavioural factors create most of our illness and that these factors are a reflection of the abysmal structures and liaisons created by government agencies, such as the obsession with motorway building.
My biggest turkey of a purchase was a cycle rickshaw from Oxford. Much lauded in the media and cycling press but phenomenally heavy-going. However, it looks nice, and with some help and a favourable wind it has been used in a number of Glasgow Go Bike campaign events. It was also used in a friend's wedding, but not without a near disaster: The Registry Office was fortunately situated on a small hill in the centre of Glasgow. Paul and Ruth settled happily into the heavily-sprung and leather upholstered cab whilst I tried to look as chauffeur-like as possible. The reception was about three miles away, and we had carefully chosen the least hilly route, which we guessed would take an hour. I had tricycle outriders ready to work in shifts on the gut-busting ascents and also to provide extra welly by pushing our rear from their machines.
When all the photos were taken, we set off proudly with more grace and beauty than any Rolls or Bentley could ever have provided. The sun shone brightly, a light breeze made the prayer bells jingle sweetly, and the lilies garlanding the canopy danced in unison. Ruth was radiant in white, and Paul was fiercely proud in real Highland Braid. I wore restrained attire but could not resist the sartorial ebullience of a purple Tricycle Association bow-tie.
As we descended through a Glasgow park I made an almost fatal error which even now leaves me shaking in fear of what might have been. We came to a rather steep section and I unwisely selected to descend on the brake. I say brake because the rear hydraulics had long since died and I had unseemly faith in a front V-brake. Suddenly it was fully deployed but gravity was on the verge of having its way as the whole contraption was shaking itself, desperate to accelerate us all into certain oblivion. I was just about to shout, "For God's sake jump!" when I managed to turn the wheel and somehow assert control. They got out and walked down the hill after that, saying nothing, but no doubt thinking plenty.
Later we had an enormous tyre blow-out and had to use the car jack to effect a repair. Fortunately, it was right outside a pub, and the happy couple were given free drinks till a new tyre was collected by cycle outrider from a local dealer. We had three further punctures and the whole trip ended up taking two hours. But Paul and Ruth loved it; they said it gave them a much-needed break together. You should have seen and heard people's reactions on the route. They were hanging out of windows and cars shouting their congratulations and blowing horns. Think I'll give weddings a miss in future, but the trikes will always be my most useful piece of medical equipment and of free advertising.
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Marriage is a wonderful invention; but then again, so is a bicycle repair kit.