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Backwords: A Risky Bladder Operation

Mike Shaw recalls the trials of repairing punctures in bike inner tubes and football bladders. So you take a minimum of three tablespoons...

For some reason which I can’t quite explain I was never able to master the art of cycling as a boy.

It was a failure which left me watching with envy as most of my mates pedalled off into the distance on a two-wheeled expedition.

There was I, left kicking my heels at home on the outskirts of Marsden, while they were heading for far-flung destinations such as Golcar, Milnsbridge, or, occasionally, even Huddersfield.

Perhaps my problems were linked to the fact that I never owned a bike of my own, nor even had a strong desire to do so.

Instead, I rode one either belonging to my brother or a neighbour, who had outgrown it and left it rusting in a cellar.

I was happy enough when pedalling furiously along a flat stretch of field or indulging in a primitive form of cycle speedway.

But on the horrendously busy Manchester Road, with lorries hurtling past at speeds which sent a shiver down my spine, I was totally lacking in confidence.

It was a disastrous attempt at a main road U-turn, which resulted in a buckled front wheel as I mounted the pavement, that put an end to my short courtship with cycling.

But I was thankful that one of my brothers had a bike because that meant he also had a puncture repair kit.

And the equipment he carried in the kit was essential for mending punctures not only in a bike’s inner tube but in the rubber bladder of a leather football.

The precious ingredients of his repair outfit were kept in a distinctive orange-coloured tin which originally contained Zubes throat lozenges.

“Go suck a Zube’’ was the exhortation on the tin. But for my purposes it was “Go mend a tube’’, or rather a football bladder.

In the tin were rubber patches, a tube of adhesive, a piece of chalk and a tiny little metal grater used to produce from the chalk a delicate shower of powder to finish off the repair job.

Mending a football puncture was only the start of what usually proved to be a long and arduous task before the ball was ready to be kicked again.

The job, at least the way I did it, involved a bizarre array of accoutrements.

A minimum of three tablespoons. A strong metal needle several inches long. And a long leather lace.

The scene on the living room table resembled a hospital operating slab as all the instruments were assembled.

Then, once the bladder was back inside the leather case and tightly inflated, the operation began.

Tie the neck of the bladder tightly to stop the air escaping. Next, use two of the spoons to prize apart the bladder and the leather casing, and the third spoon to try and push the neck inside the leather.

Occasionally, it went like clockwork and the final act of lacing up the ball with the long needle was a mere formality.

Much more often, it was an exercise of utter frustration. One or both spoons used to create a gap between leather and rubber had a nasty habit of springing loose and shooting up in the air. And it was the devil’s own job to get them back in place.

As a home video, the whole business would have been hilarious entertainment.

As a necessary evil to enable our game of soccer to resume, it was enough to reduce even grown men almost to tears. My father, for instance, usually gave up in despair after offering to lend a hand.

The young footballers of today don’t have such worries with their beach-ball imitations.

But I bet they don’t care for their footballs like we did in our day. Have they ever heard of dubbin, I wonder.

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