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A Shout From The Attic: Vox Populi Vox Deus

...Getting my new bike 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 preparation. We made the decision to go and went...

Delving into his well-stocked storehouse of memories Ronnie Bray tells of a boyhood cycling holiday in Scarborough.

To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

My second and last childhood bike was a Phillips Vox Populi from Henry Wigfall’s store on Buxton Road. The shop smelled of new bikes, 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 with joy at this news, but on reflection, I can’t think why I didn’t. I did feel the quiet inner excitement that seemed as if my heart would burst through my chest and a sweet choking in my throat, but visible and audible expressions of joy seemed out of place in my world.

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 did but he couldn’t.

I think the Vox Pop, as it was affectionately called, was bought because my old bike was not roadworthy and I wanted to go off some distance. I think I got that bike as a swap for a mouth organ. The front fork was split and in danger of collapse, but a kindly lodger took it to work and had it welded. One of the few kindnesses I remember from any of the lodgers.

As has been told, the rear frame housing the rear wheel was held together by the cylindrical spring I found on some waste ground and that served as rear suspension long before rear suspensions for bicycles had been though of. I was an inventor! The brakes were largely non-existent, and I had skidded the tyres through to the canvas and beyond!

My Dad tried to fix it up for me but he didn’t know much about bikes it was well past repair anyway. There must have been some behind the scenes discussions about it and the new safe bike was the result. My Nanny was the funder of the bike project, and was the greatest kindness she ever did for me and I was grateful to her.

Getting my new bike 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 preparation. We made the decision to go and went.

To say that we loaded the bikes would be masterful understatement. The surprising thing is that they moved at all. We had so much stuff over the back wheel and in panniers either side that we had some difficulty keeping the front wheel in contact with the road. We had a tent, a Primus stove, various culinary utensils , no clothes, a ton of food and a small amount of money. How we got to Scarborough so quickly is not a mystery. By the time we had dragged our bikes as far as Leeds, no mean feat in the circumstances, we put them in the guard's van of the Scarborough train and took the pain out of the rest of the journey. The only real hardship left was to get the bikes from the train station up to the camp ground a couple of miles out of town.

Our site fee paid and our tent up, we hit town with pockets not exactly bulging with cash. The weather was glorious with wall-to-wall sun. In the innocence and impulsiveness of callow youth we clubbed together and bought a one-man rubber dinghy. It was ex-army surplus, bright yellow and irresistible. It left us with but a few shillings in our pockets, and the awful realisation of not a day gone, but in our headlong dive for pleasure we gave no thought to the morrow.

When we returned to our tent, we found it had attracted squatters. Thousands of the little blighters all dressed in their 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 a 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 and missed us.

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, set off for home, and I never saw or heard of it again. 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 by the time I struck the Huddersfield Road in Leeds. By the time I had reached Mirfield it was two in the morning, and my lamp batteries had died some miles ago. To add to my plight it rained quite heavily and I was cold and soaked through.

In Mirfield an unlucky foot-patrol 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 laden 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. I pushed the 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 did not wake your folks up in the middle of the night, they might not like it, and they had peculiar and painful ways of expressing their displeasure.

Kids did not have house keys and 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 lid. 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 thought myself in heaven.

One of our lodgers at this time was an Irish bus conductor who went by the name of Lennon. He came in as I was drinking a cup of cocoa. I had stripped of my wet clothing and was wrapped in a towel, after scrubbing myself and drying my hair. He apparently found me irresistible and inviting. I showed him that he was both resistible and unwelcome.

A few days later I awoke in my bed to find him knelt by the side of my bed in the dark. I bid him leave and put a note under his door threatening him with the police if he ever bothered me again. My mother found the note and the conductor was in need of new lodgings. His sister, who was married with young children, was informed of his predilection lest he seek to lodge with her. I have not camped since.

Some time later I painted the Vox Populi a yucky blue with a tin of wood paint. It never looked well again. Of course, my family was disappointed and said so. Some time after that I swapped the bike: for – now what was it?

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