Some of the motor skills we learn early in life stay with us forever. I suppose that’s why we say ‘just like riding a bicycle’ when we resume something physical after a long pause and find we can still do it.
But such skills must be learned early, if that cliché is to apply. In my case learning to drive a car came too late and I found I couldn’t do it. Driving a car will never be like riding a bicycle for me
But this week I picked up my oboe again. I must play it at the funeral of a friend on Thursday. I hadn’t played for nearly two years, but, yes, to my great relief, it really was like riding a bicycle, and enjoyable too.
I started to learn the oboe when I was around ten years old, and I suppose the motor instructions are fixed firmly in some indestructible grey cells deep inside my brain. Not that I play as well as I did, but the coordination of lungs, lips and fingers seems to have endured infrequent practice.
I thought of this when I saw this mad high-risk cyclist from a taxi the other day in Prague (the streets and motorists of this city aren’t well adapted to riding a bicycle). If playing the oboe is like riding a bicycle for me, perhaps it’s a bicycle like this one. But I certainly wouldn’t ride one that looked like this. I only hope he lives as long as my 85-year-old friend did.