Thursday, 21 April 2011

Angus, Angus, Angus

Dee gave me a copy of David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries, where Byrne describes his pushbike explorations of several of the world's cities. It's very entertaining, and prompts me to write about some of my experiences with bikes.

I was very young when I learned to ride a bike, so cycling feels like a natural physical action. My dad took my brother and I to see E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial at the pictures, and it was about this time that I coveted a BMX and happily received a Raleigh Burner or Christmas. I must have been around 6 years old.
Christmas BMX
We lived on the northern (Westhaven) corner of Carnoustie, with the North Sea to the east, the Angus countryside extending northwards, and the town to our south. We bought some of our groceries from a Willie Low's supermarket, and some from a farm shop. I rode my bike around country and city roads, and also to and from school. At primary school we had cycling proficiency lessons.

At high school I started to use my Dad's racer bike. Carnoustie High School had extensive bike sheds. I guess that around a quarter of pupils cycled. I don't recall anyone being driven or accompanied by their parents on their way to school; including my friends Pammy and Trev, whose mums were teachers. Even in primary school, the only occasion our mum walked with us was on our first day of school. After that we were on our own; or rather, we were with other kids, without adult supervision. 

My Dad's bike was too big for me, and I fell and broke my wrist on the way home from school. I took a corner too fast, hit the kerb and went flying towards a brick wall, stretching out my hand to save smashing my head, and breaking my wrist instead. I recently learned that medics refer to this as a FOOSH - a fall on out-stretched hand. I sat cradling my lumpy, twisted wrist as other boys rode past shouting 'Joey Deacon.' Joey Deacon was a 'spastic' with cerebral palsy who had appeared on a children's TV show, which led to his name becoming a playground insult. I sat in shock until a disabled boy called Cameron ('Spammy Cammy' - I think he may have had a form of cerebral palsy) came along, and, unaware of any irony, he picked up my bike and took me to his house, which was a short walk away, and I called my mum from his phone.

After I left school I forgot about cycling for a while, until 2006, when I was working on a project at George Harrison's former home in Henley-on-Thames. I was living in York Street in Marylebone at the time, and in severe financial difficulties. My wages would instantly be consumed by debts, and I would then accrue bank charges for breaching my overdraft, which was pushing me further into debt. It was grim. I wound up losing over 3 grand on bank charges.

I moved from London to a house-share in Reading to save on city rent costs and train fares from London to Henley. I bought a bike very cheaply on ebay (I think it was 90 pounds) from an old man in Isleworth. The bike was a 1974 Raleigh Tourist, and I decided to give it a name. The name I settled on was Angus:

Angus: a fine bicycle

People complain that they have no option other than to take their cars to work. But if you can't afford a car, you find an alternative. I would cycle from home in Reading to Twyford Railway Station, take a short train journey to Henley, then ride from Henley Station to work at Friar Park.

Angus was so named because cycling reminds me of a childhood friend called Angus Easton, with whom I used to have bike races from Carnoustie to Craigmill Den, and he beat me every time. Angus (the bicycle) had a 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub gear. The enclosed chain and mudguards meant that I could wear the same clothes at work as I wore on my ride, and the 'sit-up-and-beg' riding posture was condusive to observing the South Oxfordshire countryside, which is very pretty and definitely worth observing.

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