First bike

I don’t known how old I was when I started to range further from our house than just playing in the garden, and when I did, who I played with, although I know where I played. Opposite our house was Ramalley a gravel track which served a couple of thatched cottages before taking a right angled route were it became no more than a grassy farm track leading to a pair of farm cottages and about three acres of rough land which was called ‘The Green’, there was another hard track leading unto the area on its southern side from Hursley Road. From Ramalley upto ‘The Green’ was a copse of mature oak trees with the gardens of a semi-detached cottage running along most of its western boundry. There was a foot path through the copse from Hursley Road a short distance from the lane to the farm cottages. At sometime in the past , clay had been extracted towards its northern boundary, leaving many of the oaks growing on little hillocks with hollows at the foot which filled with water in the winter, it also left eight foot high embankment along most of ‘The Greens’ southern boundary.

To the north of ‘The Green’ was another copse the depth of the rough land and bordering Hursley Road for some distance, which also had a path running through it. On the western side between the farm cottages and this copse was rough grass with a hedge with a ungated entrance to the arable farmland beyond. Small oak trees formed the boundary hedge with a drainage ditch at its foot along side of Hursley Road with a large area of mature gorse bushes backing into the waste land, the rest of the land was short coarse grass with a large circle of bare earth in the middle which was the site of the annual bonfire on November 5th.

An old 1920 style, open backed lorry with its wheels removed which had belonged to Targets Transport Company whose premises were opposite ‘The Green’ was dumped on the edge of the gorse and made a great addition for the kids to play on, it didn’t take long for them to totally wreck it, nevertheless it remained there for a long time. I remember seeing Rod kissing Edwina Moss who lived about a quarter of a mile down Hursley Road, whilst they were stood on the flat bed of the lorry, I remember staring at them because that was a new experience for me as I can’t recall seeing anyone kissing before, it certainly did not happen in our family, I also remember that he also had his hand on her breasts. Whatever they were doing they seemed to enjoy, it even if I did understand what was going on.

I’m not sure how old I was when I had my first bike, it was second hand machine which dad had ‘done up’ but it was really too big for me and he had to fit quite thick blocks of wood to the pedals for me to reach them, I can’t recall actually learning to ride nor who taught me I assume it was probably Rod but I did love the wonderful sensation I felt when I did succeed, the problem was although I could start off ‘OK’, using the kerb, so that I could reach the pedal, but once started I could not stop without more or less falling off, which I did regularly. To minimise and ‘put off’ the stopping routine I just kept riding, often going round and round the Bonfire circle to the point that the other kids kicked a football at me to try and knock me off.

The track from Hursley Road to the Green had a slight bend about 50ft from the junction where there was a large coppiced hazel, on one occasion whilst cycling alone I failed to take the bend and rode straight in to the hazel but remained upright on the bike right in the middle, luckily there was nobody about to witness my embarrassment but on a second occasion I was not so lucky, although I had successfully negotiated the bend I was very reluctant to stop and fall off when reaching the road, so I took a chance of not stopping but I was going to fast for my inexperienced cycling ability to turn safely, consequently I went straight across the road hitting the kerb and landing in a heap on the pavement at the feet of a middle aged man and woman, although slightly shocked, as I come out of nowhere, they just looked at me as if to say ‘you stupid boy’, but actually said nothing and with a shrug of their shoulders continued on their journey but I was red faced with embarrassment.

I don’t remember how long I had that bike nor what happened to it, but it became increasingly difficult to get spares and the quality of tyres and inner tubes was poor, the rubber inner tubes would quickly perish and the outer cover would very quickly wear down to the canvas. I was too young to be able to repair a puncture for myself; therefore, it is probably a combination of shortages and lack of maintenance that the bike didn’t last long. Flat tyres were not uncommon at that time for anyone who owned a bike and it became quite common to see a victim with his bike upturned and resting on the handlebars and saddle on the pavement repairing a puncture, it was essential to never be without a repair outfit which was in a small tin with a hinged lid and contained a number of different sized rubber patches, a tiny round tin with a removable lid containing dusting powder which was to prevent the patch sticking to the outer cover and a tiny tube of rubber solution and I think there was also a larger fabric patch to stick over any hole on the inside of the tyre. The puncture outfit was carried in a little leather container strapped to the back of the saddle.