Be like Gran

The little old lady in her raincoat
The little old lady in her raincoat

In admiration of Marguerite Dustman, 1922-2019

affectionately known to all as “Gran”

83-year-old Gran’s first World Naked Bike Ride was our London ride in 2005. If you saw the documentary film, Jon Snow calls her the “little old lady in her raincoat”.

She was the mother-in-law of Paul Burkimsher who wrote this article about their experiences in 2005.

Did she ever take off that raincoat in later years?  See the next instalment to find out!

Have you ever travelled with a naked bicycle on a train? Have you ever travelled with a naked bicycle on a plane? First thing to notice is that naked bikes are not allowed. Not on EasyJet anyway. Their website helpfully explains that you must remove the pedals, turn the handlebars 90 degrees, deflate the tyres and put it all in a big box. Big boxes supplied on demand (at least at Geneva airport). Having checked in 2 hours before departure, I was ready. The airport guys thoughtfully loaned me spanners (efficient, these Swiss), lots of sticky tape and even a felt marker for labelling the box. Somewhere over the English Channel I remembered about letting the tyres down. Oops. I hoped they hadn’t (or wouldn’t, even now) burst. All I could actually do was wonder what would happen at Liverpool. No problem, round came my bike, in its box, on the luggage conveyor.

Why was I doing all this I asked myself? It’s the mother-in-law you see. She wanted to participate in the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) and as she’s 83, I felt duty bound to come along and look after her. Gran (as we call her) is very sprightly. A real “Miss Hubbard”. Rides her bike every day, but usually through the streets of York, not quite the same as through busy central London. Not usually in the nude either. She’s always been a naturist at heart, but only a “practising” naturist since she was widowed some 10 years ago. Gran has an aversion to cars, but loves London. Reminds her of her nursing days as a young twenty-something in the war. Bandaging up injured (but not diseased) red-blooded soldiers I think. So the WNBR was too much for her to resist. Cycling – round London – in Eve’s attire.

I’d read all about WNBR on the web. Admired Richard Collins’ pluck from a distance, but was looking forward to meeting him in the flesh, so to speak. Jesse, the WNBR UK coordinator would be there and various other dedicated people who were just names to me, but who had collectively put in an awful lot of hard work, advertising, negotiating with the Police etc. The weather forecast had varied all week, from “cloudy and 24” to “sunny and 18 with a breeze”. I was not sure which I preferred. Wind isn’t generally good news for naturists. At least the weather people were consistent that it wasn’t going to rain. And so it was that I travelled to London with Gran. We emerged at King’s Cross and while waiting to cross over the busy main road outside, a cyclist who looked the spitting image of Richard Collins (as according to his photo on the web) drew up on his bicycle. I called out his name and sure enough, he came over. It was Richard. A lovely welcome to a huge city in a strange country.

We didn’t have time to join in the picnic and sunbathe in Hyde Park – though the sun was conspicuously absent anyway. We went directly to Wellington Arch where people were already disrobing ready for the ride. I have heard estimates of numbers ranging from “over 100” to “250”, but certainly there were the best part of 200 cyclists there. Some men wore shorts, some of the girls wore bikinis, some just bikini briefs, most seemed to wear nothing at all. The time had come to flip into my preferred attire. Grey sky or not, I wasn’t coming all this way to chicken out now. Multiple layers of arctic clothing came off and I tried to get them into my daysack. Gran decided that it was too cold for her to strip. She was as disappointed as anybody about that, but she’s as thin as a rake and has no protective padding whatsoever, so I believe she made the right decision. I got my sign out and attached it to the carrier on my bike. It read “God made my Designer Outfit”. This raised some grins from the crowd along the streets during the afternoon. As an active Christian, I believe that we were created and that our bodies are the pinnacle of creation. As such they should be celebrated, not hidden away with guilty feelings of shame. I did wear something though – a Jester’s hat. As much so that Gran could spot me in the crowd of naked bodies, should we ever get separated. I could spot her without trouble. She was the only 83 year old riding fully dressed!

It was hard trying to squeeze all my clothes into that small backpack. Would the zip ever fasten? Better be quick though, they’re lining up to set off!! “Come on Gran! We’d better go to the front, so that if we drop back we won’t get left behind.” Gran was still sorry about wearing clothes but was definitely going to cycle round with us, when suddenly we were off, through Wellington Arch and out onto the road. Some of the organisers were holding back the traffic and we whizzed along. Everything else just seemed like a blur, with us trying to keep up. Generally we didn’t cycle too fast, but I was very glad of the occasional stops to let everyone catch up. I thought we would be having photo sessions at each of the landmarks, but no, we just pressed on. Trying to take photos whilst you are cycling is difficult, so I have a limited selection. Really one has to participate or take photographs, but not try and do both.

Trafalgar Square was very busy. The riders ahead had carved a way through the crowd and we just cycled steadily right round. Lots of smiles, cheers and even more cameras and camera phones pointing in our direction. One middle aged lady in the crowd yelled out at the top of her voice “Why not?” and gave us a big wave. Down to the river. There was a chilly wind blowing over the bridge. We cycled around close to the London Eye then back over a different bridge. One man was cycling with his dog in the pannier on the back of his bike. Doggy decided he liked all the fun and the crowds and jumped off the bike to run ahead. Poor man trying to keep up! The dog was in its element though and I didn’t see it again until 15 minutes later when it was in the arms of another cyclist, a lady this time, peddling bravely along. Dog and man were reunited later.

Oxford Street was teeming with people. We all slowed down a little. One of the young women decided she was going to walk down Oxford Street. I don’t know what she did with her bike – I guess her boyfriend/husband looked after it. She just walked steadily and carefully down Oxford Street without a stitch on. Right there in the middle of a busy Saturday afternoon in all the throngs of people. I suspected that she’d been dreaming about this moment for a long time. Her dream was coming true. Good for her. She carried herself very well. In fact, she looked positively regal. I then realised that Gran wasn’t immediately behind me any more, so I stopped and lets scores more cyclists pass me. Then they thinned out and the last one came by. At least I deduced he was the last one because the crowds on either side of the street suddenly swarmed back into the road, gazing up Oxford Street after the riders. What was I to do? Where was Gran? I would start to feel uncomfortable if I waited around, nude, in the middle of Oxford Street on my own. Should I dress and go back to look for her? Or hope that she could make her own way back to Hyde Park (she was dressed after all)? In the end I decided I’d better catch up before the crowds in front swarmed over the road too, thereby cutting me off from my companions. I cycled madly to catch up and was relieved to catch up with Gran pedalling steadily on. I don’t know how she’d got past me.

We all stopped at the U.S. Embassy whilst Jesse handed in a letter to Bush. The embassy was guarded by armed police standing atop a concrete crash barrier. One officer was videoing us all as we went past. I bet the video gave his mates a laugh in the pub later on. One of our girls jumped up on the barrier sans bike, in fact, sans anything, and posed for him. That would have been a beautiful photo, one I missed taking. Still, I have a wonderful mental image. Her feminine beauty, nudity and purity contrasting with his masculine policeman’s expression, bullet proof padded clothes and a world-weariness, all together in a cameo that speaks volumes. By the time we got to Park Lane I suddenly realised that it was nearly over. Jesse was holding up the traffic and we had a wide empty boulevard to cycle down. I glanced at my watch. We had been going for an hour and 25 minutes. It seemed more like just half an hour.

Back at the Arch we were triumphant but tired. And cold. Even I got dressed quickly, something I am not prone to do. Then the sun came out, but I had been cool enough not to instantly want to fling my clothes off again. Tony stayed nude for a while, but I noticed his teeth chattering. There was one couple being interviewed and filmed by some camera crew or other and they managed to look warm. Kat, who we’d been talking to earlier, found Gran and gave her a big hug. Kat was a really genuine, friendly girl with a beautiful smile and kind eyes. The sort of girl that all men who haven’t already got a mother-in-law would hope to meet. Richard went off to buy some beer and we drifted over to Hyde Park to drink it. Gran preferred a cup of tea in the café and the others soon realised the benefit of the heated indoors (this was England in June!!). We had a chat there, about 5 of us, before finally going our separate ways. Will we go again next year? We will have to see if Gran is still up to it at 84, but if she is, then I doubt we’ll be able to stop her. And given even a tiny bit of sunshine, I’m sure she’ll do it “properly” next time.

by Paul Burkimsher, 2005