Monday 02 December, 2013 by Uncle Spike
Uncle Spike owns a bicycle which rusts away happily in the garage. Yes, I’m not exactly one of those ‘keen cyclist’ types who spend their every weekend adorned in black Lycra extra long shorts, funny shoes, matching gloves and a space age helmet with holes in it. No, my cycling days are long over me thinks. But it wasn’t always that way…
When I was a young lad, I biked to and from school like everyone else (about 5 km or 3 miles each way), I played truant on my bike and went out for rides off road on the muddy forest tracks where I grew up, and even went off looking for work on 2 wheels. But when I was 14 or so, I was almost a serious cyclist, or slightly more active might be more accurate a description, but definitely without all that Lycra, no sir. Anyway, I had saved up money from my Saturday job as a Butchers Boy to buy a half-decent bike. a Raleigh Royale no less.
Now to normal folk it was just a bike, but to me it was my pride and joy. It was green in colour, almost a Wedgwood green, very distinctive. It had plenty of shiny chrome too, but that required hours of polishing; that’s something that I remember less fondly. Technically it was advanced for it’s time (we are talking about 1981), with Reynolds 531 tubing, Shimano centre-pull cantilever brakes and Shimano derailleur gears, of which there were 10 – and back then, that was considered quite advanced stuff.
This was also the time by which point Young Rebel Spike had surfaced. Already banned from the annual ‘family vacation’, my jollies were of either the train or cycling variety by that age. I wrote all about my teenage train adventures in one of my first Uncle Spike posts. For those newer followers, you can bookmark this for a read over your next coffee – The Wild Rover.
As for cycling vacations, I remember a couple quite distinctly One of which involved the torturous hills of the Isle of Wight (a small island just off the central south coast of Britain, close to the cities of Southampton and Portsmouth) and the other, my first actually, was a week’s cycling and camping in Dorset.
It was just me and my pal Chris and we rode about 50 km (30 miles) from our home village in the New Forest, down to a place called Lytchett Matravers. Our bikes were all kitted out with side panniers on both the front and back of both our bikes. These were stuffed full of ‘camping stuff’, food and even some clothes. That plus a two man tent and a small gas camping stove. The ride was fairly long for young legs, but ok as it was generally pretty flat and we were both relatively fit for our age.
I remember setting the tent just before nightfall on our arrival night at a small family run field camp site, part of their small dairy farm in fact. The weather was glorious, a true decent British summer, warm and calm, perhaps in the mid 20’s (mid 70’s F) – not quite summer hot by Turkish standards, but for Southern softie Brit kids, it was plenty. We spent two great days eyeing up two rather pleasant looking daughters of a nice family staying in a caravan opposite us, but of course it took us forever to pluck up the courage to say anything at all; you know how complex flirting is when you’re a young teenager! Everything was going brilliantly; better than we could have ever hoped for.
On the third day, or the third night to be more precise, everything changed…
The good old British summer had decided that it was high time for a spot of the inclement stuff. More than a couple of weeks of continual clear skies and decent sun and the British weather system is more than inclined to do a complete about-face and brew up a mid-summer storm to put a kibosh on the plans of hordes of summer campers who flock like locusts to that part of England. In terms of the weather, that year was no exception.
At around 01:00 am the storm broke. It had whipped up pretty suddenly and caught us all by surprise. The first we knew was an awareness that our outer flysheet had ‘gone’ – yep, the damned thing just blew off with the first strong gust of wind, right up into the nearest large oak tree! The heavens then opened and we were drenched within a couple of minutes. Within five minutes we had ‘abandoned tent’ and by torchlight we watched it uproot and blow away across the field.
Meanwhile, Mister and Misses Farmer had come running outside armed with big torches to give what help they could to the forlorn bunch of fabric-dwellers camped on their spare piece of land. Those in caravans or ‘proper’ tents were relatively ok, but we, sadly, were not. After using their towels to dry off somewhat, we were sat there supping large steaming mugs of cocoa (in the middle of summer) in the farmhouse kitchen; it was then that they kindly offered us some alternative arrangements for our accommodation – a hay barn.
After a half decent sleep of what remained of the third night of our short holiday, we awoke to assess our situation. We had no tent, soggy clothes, little food… but we were safe. More importantly, Penny and Isabel were still there – that’s the two sisters, who hailed from Redruth in Cornwall, perhaps some 4 hours drive south-west from there. The jolly farmers were great folk; they offered to let us use the barn for the remainder of the week. The weather was starting to recover and so were our spirits.
We spent the next few days ‘camping’ out in the old barn. It was ace, what more can I say. Now bear in mind that we were two country lads, so to be offered such accommodation was, well, about as cracking as it could get. The bikes were safe and all dried off; we had room to dry all our clothes and some rather comfy beds made of straw! The barn also housed an old tractor and lots of other ‘stuff’ which was entertainment in itself (as any former country kids will certainly appreciate).
All in all it turned out to be a pretty fab holiday, and what’s more, we both ended up sort of ‘dating’ the girls for a good year or so after that, albeit mostly long-distance. Of course, you have to remember, there was no internet or mobile phones back then either, so just letter writing or a weekly phone call from a call box down the road after school had to suffice. I even headed down to Cornwall a couple of times… but alas, the practicalities of teenage love over a long distance paid it’s toll and the romance fizzled out. Oh the trials and tribulations of life as a teenage Spike 😀