When I was ten, I thought my brother was God
He’d lie in bed and turn out the light with a fishing rod
I learned the names of all his football teams
And I still remembered them when I was nineteen
Well, to the best of my knowledge my brother never owned, and doesn’t own, a fishing rod. If he had or did then I’d see this as an excellent opportunity to disown him; I’ve always set a lot of store by the maxim of ‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but give him a fishing rod and he’ll turn into a solitary twit who enjoys sitting in tents staring aimlessly into the distance while his guy-ropes trip up unsuspecting runners from the towpath’. Although mentioning gormless staring does allow me to flag today’s ‘word of the day’, an occasional series where I’ll travel from bathroom-reading direct to blog-writing, to bring you a word that you’re challenged to use in everyday conversation. Today’s word is ‘gongoozler’, a person who enjoys aimlessly watching activity on the canals of the United Kingdom. According to Wikipedia, it may have arisen from words in the Lincolnshire dialect : gawn and gooze, both meaning to stare or gape, which makes more sense. I’ve never met anyone gape-free from that neck of the woods.
But I digress. It was the song lyrics that got me started. I really like these lines from Everything But The Girl’s wonderful ‘Oxford Street’ as they take me back to a pretty innocent time which I remember really fondly, and which, these days, I constantly struggle to articulate to my kids.
My brother and sister and me grew up in the country, where there was, in the 1970’s, absolutely nothing to do. We’d go and play in the woods for hours, returning occasionally for meals, or go out on bikes or played football, and if it was wet, we stayed inside and…well I’m not really sure what we did, really. We will have read books, I’m sure, but I can’t believe we did that all day. And we didn’t have a television. I don’t remember that being a big problem at the time, but it seems hard for my kids to understand. Last time I counted, there were three TV’s and nine computers in our house, which came out at about three per person, which, realistically, feels a bit excessive.
‘How many screens can you look at at any one time?’, I challenged #3 quite recently.
‘More than the number of your bikes you can ride at once’, came the irritatingly measured reply.
Most of our parenting ritual these days involves extricating kids from staring at the blue light, switching machines off, retrieving them from rooms at bedtimes, and generally telling the boys to ‘get off the bloody screen’. So it’s quite hard for them to imagine a time when all that wasn’t available, or as #3 helpfully pointed out the other day, ‘when Dad lived in black and white’.
But we seemed to muddle through. My Dad finally broke the duck some time around 1975, by buying a 10” portable black and white TV, which the five of us would crowd around to watch the football, a film, or (slightly bizarrely), the snooker.
So, me and my brother typically had other forms of entertainment, and chief amongst a pretty short list was the Freewheel catalogue. If you were a cyclist in the 1970’s and you didn’t have ready access to a bike shop, then the Freewheel catalogue was your bible and your bike shop all rolled into one. Every year, a new copy would appear on the shelves in WH Smith, and the regular poring over the pages became a pretty big ritual for me and my brother.
Inside, to a cyclist, were all manner of delights, from specific and exotic components through to the impossibly unaffordable Campagnolo group sets, and, at the back, where the really wonderful page layouts were, the frames and the full bikes. Freewheel only sold two types of bike; Mercian, still renowned as fabulous bespoke frame-makers, and a now-defunct brand of cycles from a company called Revell.
When you’re fourteen, and you’re really quite keen on cycling, and you turn the pages of a magazine, and it falls open at a picture of a beautiful touring bike, and then you notice that, quite literally, It’s Got Your Name On It, well, it’s kind of hard to explain just how astonishingly excited you feel. There are a number of post-pubescent analogies that I could use at this point, but, if nothing else, the Emu’s mission statement is to keep things above the waist, so let’s just go for very very excited indeed.
So, one day, I figured, I would own my very own Revell touring bike. Unfortunately, by the time I got old enough and financially stable enough to do such a thing, Revell touring bikes were a thing of the past. And then a couple of years ago, I found one on eBay, bought it, and put it in my garage, in the knowledge that one day it would get restored to its former glory. And, with a respray courtesy of the wonderful people at Mastercote in Norwich, the application of replica decals from H Lloyd cycles and some rather tedious sourcing of lots of parts, it is finally back to something approaching that glory. And just looking at it makes me go all dewy eyed and wishing I’d kept those old catalogues:
I forgot to mention that the frame is too small for me, but it’s just the right size for Mrs E, and should be just about right for our brief tour of the Highlands in July. And, as it happens, the final nut has just gone onto the bike today, just in time for Mrs E’s birthday tomorrow.
Unfortunately Mrs E has got wind of the timing of this and made it clear that the bike doesn’t count as a valid birthday present. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, she reasons, the rebuild has given me all the pleasure, often at times when I might have been slightly more use as co-shouter at children, or providing meals/neck-rubs/handyman services etc. Secondly, and she’s mentioned once or twice, she’s not altogether happy about relying on my mechanical skills to keep her travelling (and stopping) when she wants to. And thirdly, she doesn’t quite share my adolescent geek-ness where bikes are concerned. Last month, while travelling down to France, we were about eight hours into the journey, with her driving, and, with the kids asleep in the back, and she told me she was tired.
‘Just talk to me’, she said, ‘Tell me something interesting to keep me awake’.
So I told her about the importance of gear ratios and the relative merits of compact and triple gearings, the tensioning function of the rear jockey wheel mechanism, and how to minimise chain stretch.
Before I knew it, we’d pulled off the road into a layby.
I’m really sorry’, she said, and almost immediately went into a deep sleep.
I don’t think I’ve ever really bored my wife, or anyone else, into an absolute unconscious state before; I’m looking on the bright side in that if I need to get a bit of peace and quiet I can always resume the discussion, but I guess my point is that we’re not exactly as one in our passion for bicycles.
Finally, and this is not to say that she’s ungrateful in any way, but there are strict parameters around birthday presents, as opposed to the other gifts that liberally shower upon her during the year. These include a) no second-hand items and b) preferably nothing that has been made by a member of the family or c) purchased at a craft fair.
That’s fine. Her main present this year is a fishing rod.
Happy Birthday, dear x