Saturday, 5 August 2017

On Your Bike!

Ah, the mighty bicycle. What a topic for a Saturday Blog. Still, I shouldn't complain - it was one of my suggestions when we set this summer season up. I just can't for the life of me remember why I thought it would be a good subject. Never mind, here goes.

For a few years in the early 1980s I lived in the same Hertfordshire town as one Norman Tebbitt MP, rabid Tory and key member of that first Thatcher government. He was appointed Employment Secretary in the 1981 cabinet reshuffle as part of Maggie's 'get tough on the unions' offensive. Speaking in the wake of that summer's riots on the streets of  London and Birmingham, Tebbitt famously remarked: "I grew up in the '30s with an unemployed father. He didn't riot. He got on his bike and looked for work and he kept looking till he found it." He was widely reported as having told the unemployed to get on their bikes and ride around in search of jobs. Cue a predictably angry reaction which gained symbolic focus when hundreds of  demonstrators (accompanied by members of the press) cycled en masse in protest to Tebbitt's house one Sunday afternoon and pitched a load of bikes over the walls into his front garden.

Tebbitt, who was once described by a political opponent as a "semi house-trained polecat", was suddenly dubbed Onyerbike Tebbitt, a soubriquet that stuck for years. However, the phrase surely pre-dates the man. As a colloquialism, it has now come to mean the equivalent of 'get lost', 'disappear' - but it wasn't always so.

My favourite explanation is a Welsh one. There are twenty-one valleys in South Wales (with names like Cynon, Ebbw, Ogmore, Rhondda). They are steep and narrow and at one time - allegedly - they were largely self-contained communities. People would be born, would grow up, live and die pretty much within the confines of their own valley, which is said to have resulted in a considerable level of inbreeding. The arrival of the bicycle transformed their world in the late 19th century - some three hundred years after the first drawings of an in-line two wheeled vehicle were made by a pupil of Leonardo Da Vinci in the mid-16th century - for it gave young men who could afford to buy or borrow a bicycle a greater mobility, expanded horizons.  The phrase 'on your bike' was apparently coined in the valleys as a term of encouragement - almost an imperative - to young men to cycle out on a quest for love. Pedal power gave them the opportunity to go courting further afield on a week-end, beyond their own village and vale. They could now travel thirty or forty miles to the next valley or even the one beyond in search of a sweetheart. Bless the village idiom. It's a great story; please let there be a grain of truth in it.

Riding around (in search of ...)
I got my first bicycle, a second-hand buy, when I was a teenager. It was a sturdy and workmanlike beast with a large basket on the front. It allowed me to do a paper-round on week-day mornings before school and to cycle out to the fields where we used to play football without having to rely on lifts from grown-ups. I never went courting on it.

I don't currently own a bike. My favourite Raleigh Max was 'stolen' out of its bike-shed in my back garden a few years ago - but that's a story for another time. I will replace it at some point, because there are excellent opportunities to go cycling up and down the Fylde coast and I do enjoy the scenery, the sensation of zipping along in addition to that feeling of well-being that comes from a good ride.

For a poem this week I've imagined something about a hopeful but hapless two-wheeled suitor from the valleys.

Two Wheels Good...
Your letter said not to come today
But I've cycled anyway
Down valley from Tredegar
Twenty tumultuous Sunday miles.

Oh Bronwyn, Bronwyn.
What has he got that I have not?
I could have gone
With Eirlys, Ffion, Rhoswen,*
All blooming beautiful

But you... you won my heart
And promised yours in turn.
You who wore my token
Between your lovely breasts,
Who once confessed
You had such dreams of me at night...

I see it now,
Who has ridden so often
From my valley into yours,
Blood pumping, heart bursting,
Anticipation driving me on.
For there it stands outside your door,
A smug and shining motor-car.
I cycle on around the bend.

(* snowdrop, foxglove, rose)

Thanks for reading... keep freewheeling, S ;-)


Anonymous said...

Interesting and amusing.

Anonymous said...

Four wheels...bad?/good?/better?

Steve Rowland said...

From the perspective of the poor boyo of the poem, four wheels definitely bad. Some slick chappie has motored up from Swansea (probably) and impressed fickle young Bronwyn with his superior pulling power.

Anonymous said...

Great blog - loved the poem. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Very droll, Mr R.