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A Shout From The Attic: A Veritable Pickwick

With little planning and an overloaded bike Ronnie Bray goes on holiday to the "Amazon of the North'', Scarborough.

I should, perhaps, explain. I had this desire to travel to the Amazon and explore that region. The desire lasted a long time, but I never made it there, although once or twice I almost did. Perhaps the nearest I came was an adventure I shared with my good friend Walter Fox.

My last and best childhood bike was a Phillips’ Vox Populi from Henry Wigfall’s store on Buxton Road. The shop smelled of new bikes with that rubbery smell guaranteed to raise the pulse rate of any young lad. My grandma paid ten shillings a week for the bright blue road-racing machine. I don’t know why she thought I deserved one. It was just announced that I could go into the shop and get it. I did not cry at this news, but on reflection, I can’t think why I didn’t.

The frame was constructed of Reynolds 531 tubing, the latest thing in lightweight cycle framing. It had a three-speed Derailleur gear change and looked too good for words. It went like the wind when propelled by my muscular legs and, for once, I had something that other boys envied. Walter Fox tried to get his bike running as good as mine, but he couldn’t.

I think the Vox Pop, as we streetwise boys called it, was bought for me because my old bike was not roadworthy and I wanted to go off some distance. My Dad tried to fix it up for me but it was clearly past repair to a safe standard. There must have been some behind the scene discussions about it and the new safe bike was the result. It was timely because the urbane Walter Fox and I were planning to take a cycling holiday to Scarborough and brave it under canvas. Planning is probably not the right description for our making ready. We just decided to go, threw some things together, and set off with more enthusiasm than good sense.

To say that we loaded the bikes would be a masterful understatement. The surprising thing is that the wheels turned at all. We had so much stuff stacked over the back wheel and in capacious panniers on either side of it that we had some difficulty keeping the front wheel in contact with the road. We had a tent, a Primus stove, various culinary utensils – well, a frying pan and a small saucepan – no changes of clothing, a ton of food and a small amount of money.

We got to Scarborough quickly, but how we did so is not a mystery. By the time we had dragged our bikes as far as Leeds, no mean feat in the circumstances, we had had enough cycling. We bought railway tickets for them and ourselves, put them in the guard's van of the Scarborough train, and took the pain out of the rest of the journey. That’s how I cycle these days too!

The only hardship left was to get the bikes from the train station up to the camp ground a couple of miles out of town, mostly uphill, but we were rested and fresh. Our site fee paid, our tent up, and we hit town, our pockets not exactly bulging with cash. The weather was glorious with wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling sun. In the innocence and impulsiveness of callow youth, we clubbed together and bought an ex-army, bright yellow, one-man rubber dinghy.

The uselessness of a one-man dinghy when there were two of us escaped our attention. We just had to have it. If you have ever been young, you will understand that. It was irresistible. It left us with but a few shillings and the awful realisation of not a day gone! But in our headlong dive for pleasure, we gave no thought to the morrow.

We splashed about in the sea, thinking ourselves free of cares and worries, and having the time of our lives. We congratulated ourselves on our maturity, on the planning and execution of our master-plan and the deep joy it brought to us in the warm sun of a post-war world that was getting back to a normal neither of us could remember as fast as it could. The day wore on and so did the hunger in our tummies. It was time to deflate our prize and head back up the hill to the grassy camp ground.

When we reached our tent, we found it had attracted squatters. Thousands of the little blighters all dressed to kill in yellow and black striped jerseys. The lure was the jar of marmalade whose lid had not been replaced. With derring-do, we reclaimed our habitation suffering multiple stings as we knelt on the grass within the tent - in our short trousers - on the dead invaders whose lives we had taken in frenetic vengeance.

By the next day, all the marmalade had gone and so had all the rest of the food that we had brought. Our interesting purchase left us with just enough money to buy a tin of soup and then we faced starvation. I spent the last of my fortune sending a wire to my mother asking her to send some money as a matter of urgency. The next day Walter and I struck camp and headed home. The money arrived half an hour after our departure. Murphy’s Law was real!

The food having gone at least made the bikes lighter, although the dinghy still had to be carried. Walter strapped it bravely to his machine and I have never seen it since. Shortly out of Scarborough, disconsolate, dispirited, and not a little afraid we decided to separate and make the journey home independently. After some tiring pedalling, I got a lift on a lorry that took me into Leeds, my bike perched precariously on top of the load.

It had been dark for some time when I reached Huddersfield Road in Leeds. By the time I got to Mirfield it was two in the morning, and my lamp batteries had died. To add to my plight it rained quite heavily and I was cold and soaked through. In Mirfield an unlucky policeman saw me, stepped into the road, and shone his torch at the same time commanding me to “STOP!” I swerved past him and with renewed strength pushed my racer to warp factor nine and left Mirfield a dark and wet memory.

As I turned off Leeds Road in Huddersfield to begin the mile long climb up Fitzwilliam Street, my chain gave up the ghost, snapping with a grim ‘krak!’ I pushed my bike up the hill. At least I was legal pushing a bike with no lights. It was about three in the morning and the house was dark. In those days you didn’t wake your folks up in the middle of the night, they would not like it, and kids didn’t have house keys, so it was either sleep in the dustbin or get in by some other means.

The other means I elected to use was ingress via the coal hole. Moving the grate noiselessly aside, I slithered through the hole and dropped onto the cobs. I was in! Just to be in the light and dry was a relief so powerful that I felt as if I had lowered myself into heaven.

I have not camped since. I always wanted to explore the Amazon basin. Scarborough is the closest I have come – so far!


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