From time to time, as if to prove someone does actually read this stuff, I am taken to task about my views on certain matters.
I do my best to be neutral when it comes to weekly topics, but there are some that always bring on a bit of a rant from me. Recently, one of my jaunts along the High Street was pleasantly interrupted by a nice lady, so I should maybe address myself to what she had to say.
It appears I am a little too hard on cyclists and bicycles whenever they stray into any subject. I cannot really contest that view and, in hope of getting away with it, I had better try to explain some of the reasons why bikes and me have never got on.
I was born into a push-bike family, there’s no avoiding that fact. Although not quite the mark of Cain, having a bicycle background is not something I normally disclose to folk, but there you go.
In the years following the Second World War, rural Kent was not a place of great prosperity, proving there are still many things for which the followers of Adolf Hitler have yet to properly atone, although I’m not holding my breath.
Ownership of a motor car was well beyond the means of all but professional classes. Local bus services were the mainstay of getting anywhere, but not my folks.
Given they started their married life in a farm cottage two-and-a-bit miles off the bus route, it was reasonable to expect they would seek other means of transport, and bikes were their answer.
Initially they dialled marital harmony into the mix by acquiring a tandem, and as they pedalled around at some pace, it was the talk of the wash-house. However,
Father’s seemingly boundless energy and the small detail of Mother being pregnant for much of the time meant the balance of effort was not all that good, so the tandem had to go and a pair of velocipedes were part of the trade.
This appeared to solve the problem for as long as the family comprised my two elder sisters, perched on natty wee carriers fitted to the parental bikes. Then I came along and, among other minor difficulties, this left a transport problem.
For most of the time Mother got by with what seemed like a massive pram and some stout walking shoes, but with a five-mile round trip to the nearest large village, it wasn’t just the shoes that got swiftly worn out.
Father’s search for alternatives took him to a friendly cycle dealer named Hubert Ralph who operated from a large wooden shed among more bicycles than a Chinese pub on free beer night.
From the depth of his stock, itself a wonder to behold, good ol’ Hubert produced a sidecar suitable for attaching to a push bike. He set to with spanners and a welder, and Father took home the resulting contraption, which he paid off at five bob a week.
In the euphoria of a new toy, my next oldest sister and I were loaded under protest into the sidecar, while Mother mounted the senior girl into the seat on the rear of her own bike.
So far so good. Like some form of minor travelling circus, the Bradleys took to the road for an inaugural trip with the sidecar – and at that point difficulties soon became obvious.
In many ways Father was a forward-looking man, never more so than when on his bike. What went on behind him was of little interest and as he pedalled along the highway he developed a tendency to forget about the sidecar attached to the nearside rear of his bike. This hazardous lapse meant the sidecar, with the two bairns aboard, would take to the grass verge when the great cyclist moved over to allow oncoming cars to pass. Here we come to the tragic bit.
In those days telegraph poles lined almost every road in Kent, as elsewhere, and were usually sited about a foot-and-a -half from the road edge, some anchored with a stay wire that was not all that visible in bad weather.
A collision between the sidecar and a pole or stay wire was inevitable. Thankfully, the bump was a slow-speed job with a stay wire leaving the front of the shiny sidecar with a neat centre-shed – and the hapless occupants with a good selection of minor cuts and bruises. One effect of this upset was increased vigilance on the part of the sidecar passengers who soon learned to screech at maximum volume anytime they saw a potential hazard looming towards them.
Most folk would think that was more than enough to doom the sidecar project, but Father did not give up easily. This device played a major part in our transport scheme for quite some time until we grew to be too large to fit inside that damned thing, but not before we had endure several other mishaps.
Given the sidecar leaked like a sieve, splashing through large puddles meant a tide of dirty water surging up through the floor. To counter this Father would approach any puddle he could not avoid by tipping cycle and sidecar over sideways at an angle of around 30 degrees to keep us out of the wet. Not funny, and you will have already guessed the main man got it wrong sometimes, couping right over in a flurry of bikes, bairns and bad language.
About the time another brother came along, Father decided further change was necessary. Several trips to the redoubtable Hubert Ralph followed and all three kids were equipped with a variety of ancient bikes of a size each could manage.
Before too long our family was a cycle convoy – Father leading with new brother perched on a natty wee seat fitted to the crossbar of his bike, three kids on their own machines trying to keep up, with Mother bringing up the rear, likely as not with her own bike festooned with bags of shopping, picnics or whatever else we might gather in our travels.
Space does not permit further details of our cycling adventures – there were many – and maybe one day we will return and give this topic another working over. Although I can promise you this, nothing will change my take on cycling – ever!
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Weather for Selkirk
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind direction: South east
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: West