Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Last of the Rhodesians - The Three Silly Junk Bikes

Greetings all. As promised, I will post a piece of my memoir. Sadly, you have to read the blah-blah below before it kicks off. Also, due to the length of it, I will post in three parts.

Is ‘Youth is wasted on the young’? (George Bernard Shaw.) From an adult’s perspective it most certainly is. I am sure that we all have nostalgic memories, some good, some are bad. I believe I tend to think that I had happy times when I wasn’t at home, because as long as my father was alive, I tend to have miserable memories.

Time passes differently for children. Each year (which just lasts for ever, except during school holidays), was a triumph when it ended, because for a brief moment there’re nearer to their peers - those older than us - who did clever things we wanted to emulate. Of course, it turned out they were also older and doing even more grown up type of things. In fact, children spent most of the time growing up wishing it would hurry up. Worse of all - they were not paid to attend school. The teachers were!

Still, we always had plans what we were going to do as soon as we grew up. So we couldn’t wait. Only Christopher Robin, Peter Pan and the late Michael Jackson, didn’t want to grow up. The last one died trying.

Kids do stupid things; it is part of growing up. Well it was, nowadays it is banned, controlled or given an ASBO. (Just like my dear Daddy was to me.) What is weird is how I now look at Three Silly Junk Bikes, now that I am fully engrossed with the OU course Children’s Literature.

Me, aged 11 with my best friend. The dysfunctional family has moved to 10 Sims Road, Mount Pleasant Salisbury. The house was brand new and the garden is not finished. Oh, we were very poor. The new pool isn’t that large.

I was a white, middle class Rhodesian kid. I was entitled to a bicycle. I wasn’t entitled to very nice one. Each model that would grow with me emulated my personality. Would I have treated my bicycles better if they had cost a fortune, or if I had had to pay for them myself (which of course, was impossible), who knows? I certainly looked after my first car.

Is The Three Silly Junk Bikes a finished chapter from Last of the Rhodesians? I actually thought so. I now sincerely do not know and I am no longer sure. The prose is simple, but in a way it is a children’s story. I have added some photographs applicable to the time. I don’t have any of the bicycles for the simple reason they weren’t worth the cost of a Kodak Instamatic shot. Why spend 15 cents from your pocket money getting a picture developed of something you loathed?

The Three Silly Junk Bikes is about growing up - albeit through the saddle of a bicycle.

It is told in time shift as I reminisce a decade of misery owning Rhodesian bicycles.

A second Raleigh Bicycle advert, Date unknown, depicting a classical ‘Kaffir Bike’. The term is highly derogative but used by us whitey kids more in this context as a social class difference, rather than a racial slur. It is imperative for the first part of the story to look in close detail at the bicycle.

Me aged 18 +. My first Police Anti Terrorist Patrol (PATU) early 1977, Gokwe Tribal Trust Land. I had an accumulated counter insurgency knowledge of 25 days training. My arsenal at the time consisted of three, 20 round magazines, one WW2 grenade, (in my hand), and another 60 rounds packed in their cardboard boxes and easily accessible from my rucksack - should a ruckus commence.

I just presumed that there would be some kind of cease fire that allowed for me to reload my F.N. magazines.

I had refused to wear the issue webbing of hanging, canvas chaffing lumps, and opted for my super-dooper, shiny aluminium framed, bright red, perfect target, nylon imported rucksack. I did reluctantly cover it with my dull green nylon poncho after the rest of my ‘stick’ threatened to mutiny or mutilate me.

The Legend of the Three Silly Junk Bikes

Part One

A brief history of the ‘Made in Rhodesia’ bicycle as recalled during a Police Anti Terrorist Unit patrol, Gokwe Tribal Trustland, Rhodesia, 1977.

Once upon a time, deep in darkest Africa, there lived Three Silly Junk Bikes named Lockwheel, Quasimodo and Die-Swiftly. They had all been Made in Rhodesia and, before they were nearly kicked to death, they had lived in a cave called Manica Cycles on Second Street in Salisbury.

Every now and then, a Troll, called Simon the Terrible, who was stocky, balding and had a pencil moustache, would enter the cave and roar out -

‘Who goes squeak, squeak, squeak, over my wallet?’

And the Three Silly Junk Bikes would, one after another, be purchased by the Troll for his son, because they were on a special offer. Unfortunately they were each in their own ways demented, for they had been designed to try and exterminate any one who attempted to ride them.


‘No no, go away!’ I screamed out, ‘I don’t want any of you! You’re all just cheap bicycle junk, and you all want to kill me!’

A hand covered my mouth and another shook my shoulder. A hissing from unseen lips brought me awake.

‘Shut-up, will you! Your screams can be heard by every gook within five clicks.’

I came awake instantly. In the half-moon light I took the proffered timepiece and pushed the tiny button on its side. Red L.E.D.s glowed briefly 3.01. I gave Tony the thumbs up, and wriggled out of my sleeping bag. Squatting uncomfortably on the hard ground, I cradled the loaded F.N. assault rifle and stared out into the all encircling bush. Two hours till sunrise. This was the graveyard watch, and judging by the speed it was dragging, time seemed to have stopped.

I was damp. That horribly sticky, clinging, mildew damp, permeating my filthy combat uniform; a mixture of constant rains and sweat. A sweat that came from exertion of daily fifteen mile foot patrols, and fear. Perhaps it was the massive doses of quinine I was taking that brought on the nightmares of ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’, all of them turned into bicycles that were allied to the Troll just to try and eliminate me.

I suppose these horrors would not go away until I had my own car, for that was the only reason I now stared past the shapeless, dark humps of the rest of the patrol unit around me. Adrenalin fine-tuned my ears. I could almost hear the mosquitoes as they valiantly drilled their way through the streaked thick layers of war paint on my face.

I had actually volunteered for this particular three-month stint of dressing up like a rancid tree and looking under rocks for Mugabe’s freedom fighters. It wasn’t out of nationalistic idolism; I was doing it for money. Each day on patrol added a tax free $3.75 towards my dream - my own set of wheels. You could only pull birds if you had a motor. Rocking up at the night club on a bicycle wasn’t just uncool; it was image suicide. When I was seventeen, I would walk or hitch to a party, rather than ride the bike; never mind eighteen months later.

Still, there was a remote possibility that raising the deposit could get me killed. I would die trying to replace the very machines that over a decade attempted to have me terminated.


‘Today we will go and look for a bicycle for you.’

These magical words would excite any eight year old boy. I was quivering like my dog being shown a leg of lamb, as I gabbled nonsense all the way to Manica Cycles in Salisbury’s city centre.

I rushed around, intoxicated on the smells of fresh rubber, paint and dollops of grease. There were so many shiny machines, all lined up in various sizes. I pointed out a couple of suitable models, but father wasn’t having any of it.

‘What are these strange wires for the brakes?’ he asked a helpful salesman.

‘This is the latest technology; most of the bikes use cable.’

‘Well, I need something for my small boy, and I want it to have the rod braking system. I don’t trust these wires. They could easily snap and my son could be…’

Me thinks, ‘Killed?’ Great idea. Actually, I would not mind that. Better to die in style, than be seen riding a peasant’s two wheeler.

The salesman looked down at me. I could see the pity in his eyes and I immediately started to sulk.

‘I don’t wanna bicycle with old brakes. I would rather have no bicycle at all.’

The Troll’s response to my enthusiasm was a thick ear. As I picked myself up off the floor, my head still making odd buzzing sounds, I heard a small voice from a dark corner of the shop.

‘Here I am, Little Silly Junk Bike!’

The museum relic was finally exposed from its blankets of cardboard packing.

My father looked at it. ‘Perfect. How much?’

‘I am sure we can give you a good discount.’

I didn’t hear the rest. I just stood dumfounded looking at it. It was the end of my little world; my father had bought me a miniature Kaffir bike, except it was red. Maybe it had been re-sprayed, because only black people rode black bicycles. Everyone knew this. White people rode on red or blue bicycles, or occasionally a green or yellow one. If a black person rode any other colour of bike, it would be presumed they were overpaid or it was stolen. Perhaps the shop had hoped a colour-blind pygmy would buy it.

It had everything I did not want. Its entire frame was covered in shiny rods, criss-crossed and complicatedly connected to huge steel brake handles that were attached to ancient Dutch-style handlebars. And the ultimate embarrassment - a hideous metal chain cover. The revolting object was popped in the boot and my conversation consisted of a forced ‘thank-you’. Why should I be thank-full? For the next three years I would be constantly ridiculed by my school peers, all of whom had proper white peoples’ bicycles.

Unloved and unwanted, Silly Little Junk Bike pined for attention. It would get plenty. Inexplicably, and usually at the best turn of speed I could push through the pedals, the rear wheel suddenly locked against the frame. If it was raining, the bike would simply slip underneath me, leaving my small form spread-eagled all over the road for someone to run over. If the road was dry, it would screech to a shuddering halt of burnt rubber.

Whatever. I had to schlep the thing home, kicking and cursing it, dragging its sorry arse, leaving a long flattened patch on the tyre. Before it finally burst, the canvas exposed spot would make the wheel do a little skip on every revolution, causing my teeth to click.

‘What have you done now?’ Father would accuse me time and time again.


I pushed again and looked at the readout. Hi-Tech flashed mockingly - 3.27 and 14 and 15 and 16 seconds. I let the button go. I hated night watch. Sometimes it was real scary. You look at something too long, you start to think it is moving. But not as scary as my bicycles; they had more stealth. I knew now why that damn tyre got lockwheel. Its Rhodie steel tubes were too soft. The right, rear wheel nut on the axle could be turned till the forearm bulged on a grease monkey, but a few trips, especially ‘off-road’, and the vibrations worked it free. Three years I put up with this nonsense before I grew up enough to make even my father conclude I didn’t quite fit on it. Not unless I did get a job so often promoted in my school reports - circus clown. Maybe that’s why I joined the police force.

I took my hands off the F.N. assault rifle and wiped them on what I thought might be a clean part of my camouflage shirt, and rubbed my eyes. Not too hard. There are enough stars in the southern heavens, I didn’t need to create a few billion more between the scrub and bush grass hiding the foe. Almost out of habit I touched my forehead, as if that massive lump from eight years previously was still there.


‘Bridget, you know that big ditch near Groombridge shops? Well, I am going to jump it with my bike. Do want to come and watch?’

‘Only if you don’t try and make me do it first; just to make sure it’s safe.’ Sister, now at the age of nine, was becoming a seasoned and very protesting guinea pig.

I couldn’t believe the moaning. I reminded her, ‘When I made you jump off the highest platform into the diving pool, you didn’t die did you? You had to go first because you are lighter and smaller.’

‘Yeah, and when you made me jump of the garden wall with your home made parachute that didn’t open, and I fell into the rose bushes, I was hurt.’

I sighed. ‘I explained to you, it was not my fault. The strings were too long for your short body.’

The four foot wide, and same depth, drainage ditch sliced through the middle of a vacant corner plot. There was the usual ‘short cut’ beaten smooth through the waste high vlei grass. Pedestrians could leap it, except the black women balancing forty pounds of meilie meal on their heads. Cyclists cleverly dismounted and, with the bike hooked on the shoulder, jump across.

‘It looks very deep and very muddy,’ Bridget chirped up, as she peered in. With her small size in relation, she would see this as a chasm. There was no way I could get her to do a test run.

It did seem rather wide, but pride took precedence over stupidity. As father always told me, ‘You act first and think later.’

It took years before I understood he meant this as a serious critical observation - not advice. He would also tell everyone that I walked around, ‘With thumb up bum and mind in neutral,’ which was now rather difficult to do whilst sitting on a bicycle and attempting to enter the history books.

Sister stood back a respectable distance and I peddled off a stretch to get a good run at it. The path was a bit bumpy and a little slippery in places due to recent rains. As I approached, at a break - my - neck speed, frantically pumping legs, I started to furiously ring my little silver bell. The last thing I needed when I leapt to glory was to meet someone coming from the opposite direction. Just feet away from the rapidly approaching giant slash in the earth, a niggling doubt about reading somewhere about ramps entered my head.

I had reached the point of no return, when Lockwheel must have realised it was in for the chop, because at that moment it did a Bob Marley -

‘We're jammin' (jammin', jammin', jammin')
I'm jammed: I hope you're jammin', too.’

Everything happened very quickly. There was a weird sensation of weightlessness… as the plunge into the abyss began. I heard a huge explosion, deep inside my head, as my forehead contacted the rim on the far side of the ditch. Day turned briefly into night and I had a little sleep. When I woke up, I wasn’t curled up in bed cuddling a blanket; I was lying in six inches of cold, red mud, wrestling the devil, shaped like a bicycle, with a spectator cheering me on.

‘Are you alright? You’re bleeding from your head - quite a lot!’


Picking up a handful of scraped earth from a small pile I created for my hip a few hours earlier, I let it trickle through my fingers. I thought about the saying that Africa’s soil is red from the blood people have spilled on it – all murdered by their bicycles. That was the end of Little Silly Junk Bike. It was sold for $5 at the local African hardware store. Hopefully it was painted black and used in the bundu by a picanin goat-herder. It would serve the sodding thing right.

I shifted restlessly on the hard ground. There was still an hour to go and I put a hand in my underpants to rearrange some rather sticky and smelly tackle. I haven’t had a bath or changed my underpants for three days. All seemed okay, or at least I hoped so, because Lockwheel’s replacement had tried to neuter me.

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