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Around The Sun: An Uncaged "Tiger''

Steve Harrison recalls the day he learned to ride a motorbike and had a close encounter with a hedge.

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Youth is wasted on the young – saying of tired old men.

As kids we were rarely given store-bought toys. I once got a Meccano set, but that was it. Most of the time we made do with what was all around us.

We lived on a housing estate which was surrounded by beautiful countryside - hills and valleys, fields and streams. I spent a lot of my growing-up years wandering through fields and along country lanes.

I found pond life fascinating. I was always chasing after water beetles, frogs and stickleback fish. The real prize was to catch a newt. I spent many hours at the edge of dam or pond, looking out for elusive great crested newts. I had a fishing net made from a metal coat hanger and one of mum's discarded nylon stockings.

My life’s ambition then was to be a marine biologist. I wasn't quite sure what that would involve, but I longed to spend my days invesigating underwater creatures. In our kitchen there were jars containing small fish and tadpoles in various stages of their development.

Another part of our local landscape was given over to open cast mining. Great mechincal "beasts'' scraped at the earth, searching for coal. Waste material was piled up to form a hill, a slagheap. It was our delight as kids to climb to the top of these heaps. We gathered up sections of corrugated sheeting, which were used on the site, and laid them to form a track from top to bottom of one of the heaps.

Then we adapted an old dustbin to form our very own bobsled. Two or three kids would squeeze into the bin, then away they would go, down the track. Five or six seconds later, they would arrive at the bottom of the heap, coal dust in their eyes, faces blackened, shins sore and noses scratched. It was great fun. We loved it.

A large number of tyres had been dumped nearby. We used these to build dens, arranging the tyres into long, complicated tunnels. We took some of the bigger truck tyres to the top of the slag heap. We rolled down the heap inside these huge tyres. We ended up dizzy, unable to stand for a while, but we carried on doing it anyway.

The slagheap was at the top of a lane that led down to the woods, where an abundance of blue bells grew in spring. I think the lane was called Wellands Lane. Someone at some time had stolen an old motorcycle and dumped it in the lane. We used to turn up with a can of petrol and get the bike started. My very first lessons in motorcycling were on that old bike.

Mum had some fox fur gloves of which she was very proud. They reached almost up to her elbows. She never wore them because she did not want them to become shabby. They were her pride and joy - and I decided they would be great to wear while I was motorcycling on that old machine.

I wore them for my first lesson on how to ride the bike. ... just sit astride the machine, throttle on the left, front brake on the right, rear brake worked with your foot, keep the bike pointing straight ahead, keep away from the hedges...

Of course I was anxious, but the fox fur gloves reassured me that I looked the part. The other boys pushed me off to get the bike started. I opened the throttle and the machine bounded forwards like a tiger released from its cage. I tore down the lane at full bore. The others were yelling behind me. "Use the brake, use the brake...''

That bike had a will of its own. It headed for the hedge and proceeded to drag me through it. I came to an abrupt halt when we hit a tree root.

When I looked down I was horrified by what I saw. Mum's precious gloves had been torn to rags by the thorns in the hedge. Somehow the shredded gloves had worked their way up my skinny arms, and were now above my elbows.

I was cut, bruised and bleeding, but all I could think of was those gloves. How could I possibly explain to mum what had happened to them?

I can only presume that I found the right words. I don't recall any punishment being dished out. Perhaps my battered face made her forget about the gloves. Or maybe she thought I had already suffered enough punishment.

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