Peter Berry and Deb Bunt
“When I cycle, I am Peter the man, not Peter with dementia.”
Bikes have always been a huge part of my life. I was fifteen when I first rode a penny farthing and then, when I got back on one a few years ago, it was like I’d never stopped riding one. I put my foot on the back step, scooted along and climbed on to the saddle. It was, well, it was just like riding a bike!
My dementia diagnosis means cycling has taken on a new
importance. I can’t drive anymore and so if I want any
independence, cycling is the only option. Cycling is like a balloon
that takes me high into the sky, far above the dirty mist of dementia. Up here I can breathe and think, down there I am suffocated.
I have this great love affair with my penny farthing. It’s a simple bike and these days I find gears confusing so cycling on a penny farthing is a great solution. There are no brakes or gears and there’s no chance of getting a puncture. The only obstacles are roundabouts and traffic lights and, of course, in the 1870’s when the bikes were first made, that wasn’t a problem the Edwardians had to face!
A couple of years ago (I’m not sure when as I have lost the ability to track time) I completed a 6-day challenge on the penny farthing. The idea was to raise money for, and awareness of, dementia. Deb, who I call (amongst other things!) my “external memory”, recorded details of this in our book. Curiously, it remains a book I never have and never will read.
“Peter had played a major role in focusing my blurred and damaged vision…”
One of the primary reasons I retired and left London was because I had become cynical about life, due in no small part to my tough job as a social worker. I had lost my motivation and was stuck in an unpleasant mire of human misery. I couldn’t see how I could make anything better for anyone.
So, my husband, Martin, and I took early retirement and arrived in Suffolk. We didn’t know anyone here but we were eager to embrace our new lives, in whatever format this might be. For me, it arrived in the shape of a lycra-clad Peter Berry, whom I met a couple of weeks after our arrival. Peter and I quickly became great friends and we have cycled thousands of miles together.
Two years ago, Peter undertook a challenge we called “The FourCounties Penny Farthing Challenge” (so-called because we cycled through four counties of Great Britain). Just before we set off for this week-long ride (a ride where Peter completed the 250 miles in its entirety on his penny farthing) I stood next to him and reflected on just what an impact this man had on my life. In our book, “Slow Puncture” I wrote: “Like a pilgrim, I had arrived in Suffolk to find a new path and, had I been religious, I would have said this moment was my epiphany…what I was blessed with was a restoration in my faith in humanity even if it came packaged in the shape of a man dressed in lycra, living with a debilitating terminal illness about to climb on a 52-inch penny farthing and cycle 250 miles into unknown territory…”
“Dementia is a complicated condition but it’s surrounded by simplicity…”
I love old bikes for their simplicity and history. I own many bikes but two of my favourites are my 1950 Claud Butler and my 1947 Parkes. In my view, dementia is a complicated condition surrounded by simplicity but I always try to focus on the simple bit of dementia, thebit outside of the complexities, the bit I can understand. Cycling on uncomplicated bikes mirrors that philosophy. There are no gears, no mechanisms to go wrong: you simply sit on the saddle and pedal.
“Ours was a serendipitous coming together because now I really am an author”
Peter has become a wonderful friend. Meeting Peter has not only helped me to see my life with more clarity and to guide me in the art of living in and enjoying the moment, it has also helped me to achieve one the few ambitions I held in life. I had always wanted to be a published author but I lacked motivation or, perhaps, a suitable subject about whom to write. Reflecting on the last four years of our friendship, it seems to me that I have distilled something pure and positive from the murky depths of Peter’s dementia. I am now a published author. It is quite a gift Peter has bestowed on me but it’s a gift which creates a curious mix of feelings: joy at having achieved
an ambition, sadness in that it’s Peter’s condition which has been the catalyst to this achievement.
Learn more about Peter Berry and his advocacy and learn how you can purchase both Slow Puncture and Walk With Me by Peter Berry and Deb Bunt.