Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Legend of the Three Silly Junk Bikes : Part Three

Me in my pad, Gwelo Police singles men’s mess, 1978. The hat isn’t issue, nor the leather jacket. The strange silver squares on the cupboard door are office numbers from the Monomatapa Hotel in Salisbury. A bad man had taken them.

At last, here is part three. I have had to compromise the indents as paragraphs. A real pain, but at the moment it is the best I can do.


I had a plan, for I hoped to pick Quasimodo’s successor. I had scouted Manica Cycles and told father, ‘I have chosen four different bikes. Anyone of them will make me very happy.’ Father was amused at my cheek. Now that I was attending High School, he had conceded that even I needed an adult sized bicycle.

In the shop, I presented the Troll with my first option, an imported aluminium racing bike called the ‘Rex Special’. Since the machine was a sanctions buster, most customers would need a second mortgage to pay for one. This was a clever manoeuvre. Start at the impossible prices and work downwards till I wearied him out and matched the limit of his wallet. Second option was a Rhodie version of the Rex Special. Nice paint job, sexy, short metallic mudguards and a four speed derailleur.

The Troll growled at the price tag. ‘Where is number three?’

Option three was as option two, but poor man’s style. A neat set of drop handlebar style horns that even a fully-grown Billy goat would be proud of, complete with racing style aluminium brake handles. Downsides were the clumsy rubber hand grips instead of cloth tape wrapping, and the saddle was designed for black people with generous behinds. At least it was blue and had a sticker declaring the name, ‘Swift’.

Still, at $100, the Troll grunted, ‘A possible option, which is the forth?’
I had to think fast. Outwitting the Troll was as dangerous as a Mongoose v Cobra battle. I didn’t want it to be distracted by being shown a $40 cheaper black-man’s bike (again painted red). So I simply pointed to another more expensive model. The ploy worked and Big Silly Junk Bike became mine. It would be named, Die-Swiftly, on its maiden voyage going to school.

Now equipped with the gutted Quasimodo’s gears, I plummeted down the renamed Brokeballs Mountain, exhilarated as the 26-inch wheels hummed in ever increasing pitch, till I realised there was no way in hell I was going to navigate the corner at the bottom, and the braking began. Smoke enveloped the back tyre as the the rubber was stripped of. The smell was nauseating, but I had no time to be sick. In desperation I hit the front brake. Too late, as Big Silly Junk Bike promptly came to a deadly halt by crushing its front wheel into the kerb, throwing me over the handle bars. As the tyre hissed out its life, my school suitcase landed on my head and burst its contents.

My next attempt at dying swiftly was a just a tad my own fault. There had been a short fad of attaching playing cards to bike frames, with spring-loaded wooden clothes’ pegs. With the cards sticking into the spinning spokes, it resulted in the streets resembling noisy swarms of locusts, with clackity-clacking kids, filling most of the road. The parents rebelled, with Dads annoyed with missing poker packs, and Mums constantly replacing pegs. But my interest in the ability to make music out of a bicycle piqued my curiosity. I started an intense self-instigated course of philharmonic wheels. I worked out that by placing a brown school shoe, with my foot inside it, against the revolving front spokes, there emitted pings and plonks of various decibels.

This was exciting; I could see myself as the world’s first creator of symphonies for cycles. Varying the foot pressure, I could change the tempo and the rhythm. It was in one particular redemption of Shoebiter’s Unfinished Symphony, when, requiring a deeper tone, similar to a bass drum, I concluded that to compensate the heavy force needed against the spinning swirl of spokes, I needed to pedal-up to the speed of a charging lion. Where else to get that tempo? Of course - non other than Brokeballs Mountain.

It worked. A wonderful renascence went from deep pulsating throbbing, to reach a crescendo as high pitched as a girl’s scream of terror, as Big Silly Junk Bike took its opportunity and swiftly swallowed my foot. Three spokes sheered as they tried to dismember my lower right limb against the front forks. Then in a shuddering spasm, the entire orchestra leapt high in the air, complete with conductor, somersaulted, and finished with a mighty bone-crushing crescendo. My pocket money was used to repair Die-Swiftly, and nature repaired my leg for free; a lot quicker than the reinstating of my $1 a month allowance.

It was during yet another teen craze I would teach Die-Swiftly, that led to another session of painting the streets red with blood – mine. In 1974, ‘The Chopper’, the ultimate in imported bikes hit the shops. It was a weird contraption, with hanging monkey-style handlebars, and a front wheel half the size of the extra wide one at the rear. It had a Sturmy Archer three-speed with an ultra cool gear-shift shaped like the one on the centre column of an automatic car. Its unique design made the ability to ‘pull wheelies’ easily.

The Rhodesians countered by creating, ‘The Rebel’, a rather sad looking copy, presumably designed by the same weirdo that thought up Quasimodo. Not to be outdone by my fellow wheelie pullers, I spent many hours heaving the front of Die-Swifly up a few feet and pedalled away on the back wheel for a few seconds, thinking I was very clever. The front wheel then came down with a rather violent force. How violent soon became apparent when the stressed front forks finally sheered off, and the whole front, after snapping its constraining brake cable, wheeled off into the sunset, leaving me ploughing up several yards of tarmac with my face. With scrapped skin and specs of tar wrecking havoc with my eyesight, I thought I saw two months’ pocket money vaporising.

‘He lacks concentration,’ was a common and repetitive comment in the majority of my school reports. This was not all true, for I did concentrate hard on the subjects that interested me; for example - turning Big Silly Junk Bike into the world’s first pedal-powered submarine.

After several dry runs I was ready. Planning had to be perfect. Exactly as planned at 1.17 pm my assistants were correctly in place as I hurtled down Sims Road and assistant No1, Julia, the maid, opened the front gate well in time for me to take the sharp right bend and enter the hundred feet of driveway at gravity defying speed. Shoes were easily kicked off. School case released from the pannier rack. Hat and tie dumped. Holler out to assistant No 2, David, the gardener, who is to clear the entrance to the family pool behind the house. I had to carefully manoeuvre the tight gap between the house and garage (dangerous this, if I clipped either at the speed I was going, I would leave a painfully bad impression), and then launch myself into the sparkling clear waters of the murky deep…

With a mighty splash, Rhodesian Navy U Boat, Die-Swiftly 001 (Zambezi Class), under the command of Captain Anarchy, B.O.T.C. of MP (Bottom of the Class of Mount Pleasant High School), entered the quite aquatic world and dived eighty inches under the sea. Changing down to first, Capt’n Anarchy ordered, ‘Blub, blub, blub’, (translation - ‘Up periscope’), and turning the submersible around, pedalled it gracefully up the incline to the shallow end. The Capt’n’s head popped out to take a look for the enemy and draw breath. Strategy meant both parents were still at work and wouldn’t be back for a few hours; otherwise serious depth charges would be the consequences. All that could be seen was the Alsatian dragging its worm irritated bum and David rolling a homemade smoke from the tobacco stalks that covered the grass to make it greener…

With plenty of time on hand, some manoeuvres were in order. Back in the deep-end I could get my sub to climb halfway up the curving pool sides before somersaulting backwards to land painlessly on my head. Even ‘wheelies’ were easy, although I did notice acceleration made the rear propulsion unit (back tyre), skid a bit on the slippery surface of the light blue painted concrete surface. Great plans formed. I could get my chinas to do this too, and we could have races and mock battles. All I needed were some oysters and the subterranean world was mine.

Well pleased with myself, my navel vessel was put out into the dry dock and my soaking clothes rapidly dried. Job done - great success - none the wiser. David and Julia were sworn to the well known code of silence between kids and their parents’ domestic staff.

‘David, where in hell have all these black marks in the pool come from?’ roared the Troll, loud enough to penetrate my bedroom window. I had a really bad feeling that I knew where they came from and my life now hung on a tiny thread of African omertà.

‘Aah, Baas, I do not know.’
‘Well I want them gone by tomorrow.’

Back from school the next day, David presented me the long handled pool brush. I didn’t argue. Problem was, the brush couldn’t get the tyre marks off. I started to panic. If they didn’t shift, David would finally spill the beans and the Troll would spill my guts. I changed into a cossie, grabbed a kitchen rag, poured washing up liquid onto it and dived in and got rubbing as if my life depended on it, literally.

Plenty of suds later, I waited till the waters calmed so I could get a good look. The marks were all gone, except where they had been, there was now giant streaks of very clean blue. By the time I finished rubbing the entire pool down, praying that the giant foam bath I had created would have dispersed by the time the Troll once again turned up for inspection, I had a full understanding of the process of osmosis. My skin was more wrinkled than an elephant’s hide.

With dawn rapidly creeping through the bush to touch the sleeping forms, I prodded the others awake and set up my little stove. As the water slowly boiled, the sounds of the bush came alive as the rest of the unit went off to empty their bowls behind the nearest shrub. Another day; another few bucks towards my car. As I had done from day one, I mentally tallied the amount still to go to reach the deposit -, plus $50.
That came from selling Die-Swiftly. Mother had asked me what to do with it since it had laid in the garage a complete rusting wreck for yonks.


Big Silly Junk Bike, aka Die Swiftly, had looked a real mess. Its tyres flat and bald, with broken brake cables tangled amongst its paint scraped frame. The hack sawed mudguards were just mangled stubs from the time I had decided to pimp my ride. No one could even pull a whore with this well shagged out goat. Ag shame!

Having inherited my father’s short arms and deep pockets when it came to splashing out the readies, I realised that to turn a profit on this goat’s carcase I needed to raise the dead myself because Jesus Matamba, the mechanic down at the local African, ‘Fixy-all-Things’ workshop, would demand more than two pairs of old khaki school shorts and three galleons of Chibuku ‘Shake-Shake’ millet beer.

Financial success comes from effort and investment. It would need the world famous Whiteman’s magic of Rhodesian entrepreneurship. I rubbed the frame down and sprayed it silver. That being the cheapest paint in the hardware shop. New bright white mudguards, black handlebar tape and matching brake cables were added. I turned Big Silly Junk bike into a very smart machine for ‘just’ one day’s pay (plus bonus), of $10. Even I was impressed. It was to go to a large, we-sell-everything store, and I took it for our last ride to deliver it in person.

Everything was perfect. Rays beat down through a light blue sky. Calls of ‘Go-away’ came from tall gum trees where grey lourie birds bid Die-Swiftly adieu. The occasional dog, trapped by the confines of a front garden fence, ran parallel to me, whilst barking its stupid head off, and as I turned a sharp left into Norfolk Road, I promptly became airborne.

‘Why me?’ I moaned to a solitary grasshopper sitting nonchalantly on the grassy verge I now shared with it. Confused, but not too badly injured, I picked myself and the bike up, and resisted the impulse to butcher this goat off-spring of the Devil. I gripped its horns and twisted its neck back and forth, as if trying to break it. In doing so I spotted why I had been dumped. The right brake cable was too short. On a sharp left, it locked the front wheel.

With this knowledge I finally reached my destination without any further mishaps, collected my fifty bucks and neglected to inform the store’s owner of Die-Swiftly’s latest little fault. Let someone else get killed for a change. I shed a small tear of happiness and I gave Big Silly Junk bike a discreet kick goodbye.


With the morning sun gathering strength, my back was soon sweating lightly under my rucksack as our patrol swept out of the surrounding bush and we stood on the rutted, dirt track of a road between Charama base camp and Gokwe town. According to the map, we were a short hike from Solomon’s store; where we were headed. The digital watch now needed two hands to operate, one to shield the readout from the sun, and with several pushes it announced it was Saturday, the fourth of December – weekend! Beers for lunch had been an unanimous decision. Besides, it was our pick-up point for us to be returned to base for a couple of nights ‘off’ and the much desired luxury of the triple ‘S’ (Shit, Shower and Shave),before going out again.

Rather casually and in single file, at exactly 8.15am, we trudged around a bend in the road. A few yards away sprawled a dead black male adult - on top of a bicycle. A flush of guilt shuddered through me and I approached in apprehensive horror.

‘I wonder what killed him.’ Tony says. I almost imagined the next matter of fact statement. ‘Looks like a case of severe front brake cable failure resulting in violent death.’

I was a policeman. I was going to prosecute myself for manslaughter. I might even go to jail. All my hard saved cash would go out in compensation. I stared down, past the poor man’s form, at what he lay upon, and almost started to cry. Giggling stupidly, I pulled out my official note book and clumsily drew the crime scene – except it was no crime, for it wasn’t Die-Swiftly lying in a crashed heap. It was a bog standard, tired old peasant bike that had tried to carry its old, sick owner to the clinic just two miles away and never made it.

And that concludes the story.

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