Saturday, 17 June 2017

No compromise


Sitting on the bank of the Basingstoke Canal one hot and languid Summer day like this one, I found my first bicycle.

I could just make out the handlebars through the green murk of the water, and I enlisted my older brother's help to yank it out on the towpath. It was in pretty good condition, so must have been in there for a short period of time.

There was a stone bridge very nearby, so I guessed that it may have been stolen and thrown over. We took it to the police station and the copper told me that if it was not claimed in a short period of time, it was mine. It was not claimed, so I collected it and began riding it around.

The most exciting thing about it was that it had enormous cow-horn handlebars. Only the bad boys had cow-horn handlebars - the juvenile equivalent of wannabe Hell's Angels.

I rode round to a school friend on it and his mother eventually said that she was worried when she saw the handlebars, but having spoken to me she understood that I was a nice, respectable sort of boy. Her parting advice to me was to fit an ordinary short set of bars to the bike, so as not to give people the wrong impression. She missed the point. I wanted to give people the wrong impression. Living in a huge house in a wealthy and leafy suburb of Surrey, it made a nice change.

I wanted a pair of very pointed 'Winkle-Picker', elasticated Chelsea Boots too, but my parents wouldn't buy me any. According to my mother, it was not that they thought they would - along with the handlebars - give people the wrong impression, but that they were worried that they might harm my growing feet. This was from parents who regularly irradiated their child's feet by allowing him to look at the skeletal image of them in a Clarke's shoe shop with unshielded x-rays from a wooden-cased machine.

In those days, a policeman on the street (a rare thing now) would take the piss out of a young yob by asking, "Do your feet come to the end of those shoes?"

The standard response from the yob was, "Does your head come to the end of that helmet?"

Eventually I obtained a pair of Winkle-Picker boots by swapping an old air-rifle for them. They were about 2 sizes too small for me - I had very large feet, even in those days. I spent one day hobbling around in them before taking my parent's advice and throwing them away.

In return for giving them up, they promised to buy me a replacement pair of the right size. I insisted that they had to be pointed. The description 'uncool' was not in use in those days, but that is what we would have called the clumpy, round-toed shoes we had to wear to school. "We'll see," was the ominous, no-promise response.

When they arrived, they were ever so slightly more pointed on the toe, but only just. They just didn't understand that there could not be any compromise, so they compromised. Because of this, I actually understand how one pair of trainers can be perfectly acceptable to  a modern youth, but another pair - in which I can see no particular difference - is not.

When I outgrew the cow-horns, I desired nothing less than a racing bike with drop-handlebars.

My parents said that drop-handlebars were very bad for the posture, especially for a growing boy. My birthday was coming up, and I worked on them to get me a racing-bike.

The great day arrived and I was escorted into the yard to unwrap the bike. As expected, another compromise had been made, and the handlebars were ever so slightly downward-pointed.

That was not the worse thing about it. In order to save money, my father had selected a bike with a frame made of iron and not aluminium, so the 'racing bike' weighed a ton and could only be picked up with two hands.

I felt extremely ungrateful and angry at the same time. My parents could not understand why I refused to ride the bike, saying that it cost them a lot of money and now it was rusting away. If it had been aluminium, it would not have rusted even if I did not use it.

They just did not understand.

18 comments:

  1. When I was at school I used to borrow a bike with cow horns. Not only did they look cool, they were also very 'user friendly'.

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    1. That's what I told my parents, but it backfired on me when I wanted drop-handlebars.

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  2. That's why none of us could wait to leave home. Everything was always a compromise.

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  3. Same was here, and it is not the UK, i think that was the generation past war.

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    1. Yes, WW2 had a lot to do with our parent's attitude, so consequently ours. Not in the USA though. They did not have the hardships and frugality that Europe did.

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  4. And just think, all those crises when you were growing up have made you the person you are today!

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  5. Even in the USA there were many compromises with the parents! I wanted a portable record player, but my father couldn't understand why I would prefer that to a non portable hi-fi system (which is, of course he would have wanted!)

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  6. Too bad those winkle pickers weren't white.

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  7. When you were a bit older, Tom, did you wear the boots with perspex block heels that had goldfish (plastic goldfish I suspect) swimming around in them, the ones worn by anyone who was anyone and had a band? Do say yes!

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  8. YES! nobody EVER believes me when I tell them about the xray machine in the shoe shop! I am so glad you experienced that too.....well not really but you know what I mean!!

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    1. It was a ghostly green image, wasn't it?

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  9. Libby (and Tom) we had the x-ray machines here in Australia too, and, I presume, elsewhere around the world. I think you just have to be of the "right" age.

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  10. I have always had feet at the top end of big for women's shoes, so my modus operandi has been to ask, "Can you show me what you have in my size" and select from the 1-3 options. Then when finally larger sizes are easy to ge, my knees come over all fussy and I have to wear flats flats flats. None of this fussing over how pointy the winkel pickers are! Mind you I do own a pair!

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