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Sunday, 5 August 2012

Hands on History

"Left foot up and on the peg,
both eyes looking straight ahead!"
"The right foot is your forward thrust."
"Gather speed then up you fly
and sail into the saddle."

Such advice, coming in from all quarters,
is often contradictory,
but not in this case - though perhaps
it lacked a little all-inclusiveness.

Seemed simple to a boy like me
whose great delight was boarding moving buses.
Tough to spot the difference, I thought -
apart from a few cusses.
Unknown to me back then, the phrase
"at breakneck speed" had first been coined
by penny farthing riders.

A member of our local touring club,
passionate collector of old bikes,
one Sunday in each year invited us
to share and ride his treasures.

So now, I'd followed all the good advice,
but still it didn't feel like flying
as I made it to the saddle -
nor sailing come to that!
And once ensconced the thought occurred:
no one had mentioned balance. Why was that?
Instinct told me what I knew -
steer into the wobble.
Then instinct played it dumb,
forgot to add: don't lean. I leant.

My good friends rescued me,
and for a bit I was content
with "left foot up and on the peg"
to scoot the thing along.
I guess I would have stuck to that,
but didn't see the slope ahead,
and couldn't scoot that fast.

Next time I had the beating of the beast.
I steered into the wobble, didn't lean -
and waited for the big machine
to come up straight again.

Imagine someone used to riding
Derby winners, thrown up on an elephant.
It seemed an age we lumbered on
before it knew I'd turned the bars.

Another piece of missing info'
concerned the getting off!
To slow, I knew to pedal backwards,hard
and braking all the time.
But after that, what then
for someone in the stratosphere
without a parachute?

I made it to a lamp-post and shinned down.
Written for Brian Miller's Poetics - His'tory, Her Story and Time Machines at dVerse ~ Poets' Pub
The image is from Wikepedia


John (@bookdreamer) said...

Captures well those moments of learning to ride. I was taught in my 20's by a friend holding the back to keep me straight. Within the week I brought my own and went off on a road tour - learned a lot about brakes and hills in rain that I had forgot to ask about.

Elephant's Child said...

How fascinating. I have always wondered how (other than falling) one dismounted from a pennyfarthing.

J Cosmo Newbery said...

You are a braver man than I am!

Daydreamertoo said...

LOL... I rode so many bikes as a kid. Can't remember how I learned but, being the tomboy I was, used to take them all apart in the back garden too. This reminds me so much of all the tumbles I took, going downhill with hardly any brakes to stop me. LOL
Cannot even imagine riding a penny farthing, that must have needed a lot of skill and and bucket load of nerve.
All of this made me smile Dave.

rch said...

Good one, after watching my sister fall off the neighbor's horse and break her shoulder I was very nervous around those huge creatures.

Brian Miller said...

smiles...oh those first tentative rides and all the thoughts that go through...the how to get off is def important, ha...i def had my fair share of skinned knees....smiles....very nice dave...

Ygraine said...

Absolutely brilliant!
You were brave enough attempting to ride a penny farthing once, let alone so many times.
Must have been that male instinct to conquer no matter what the obstacle! Hehe.

Love the ending. Had me laughing out loud :D

jabblog said...

I've always wondered about penny farthings - not good if you suffer from vertigo or are afraid of falling!

A Cuban In London said...

Oh, boy! Not for me the 73, but the old Russian (or Soviet) trucks that went down my road. My friends and I would climb up on to their rear bumpers and hitch a ride to a baseball game or even school sometimes. Especially if we had PE in the afternoon. Your poem brought memories galore. I sometimes watched the old Routemasters and wondered what it was like to board one on the way to the theatre, for instance. Many thanks for your poem, it was a delight to read.

(I think I'm still skipping around the kitchen) :-)

Greetings from London.

Grace said...

Nice recollection Dave ~ I never did learned how to bike, of any kind as my parents were overly protective of me. Until now, I never tried it...guess I don't want to land on my butt ~

Mary said...

Oh my....you were riding the kind of bicycle you had a picture of? Never in a million years would I attempt that. You WERE brave (as J Cosmo said) indeed.

Claudia said...

smiles..i would call this learning by doing and failing and filling the blanks of missing info...like most of the learning in life takes place...nice...glad you made it to the lamp-post and hope you didn't hit it too hard...smiles..brought back some memories..

Gerry Snape said...

this made me smile ! and now with all the wonderful scenes in the veladrome...we are all cyclists at heart!!

flipside records said...

Love this:

"what then
for someone in the stratosphere
without a parachute"

Anonymous said...

Yes - awful to learn to ride a bike (or really teach it as parent.) Such a leap of faith to let yourself go fast enough to get the momentum. Very well described - glad you made it! k.

hedgewitch said...

I had no idea these were still around--you are a brave man, David. I've always thought they looked counter-intuitive in every way, but tremendous fun--with my grace and agility, I'm afraid I would severely injure myself on one though.Thanks for the ride, at breakneck speed, or at least, the breakneck part. ;_)

ds said...

Oh, dear. You don't seem any the worse for wear, however. ;-) We should all learn to "steer into the wobble."
Thank you.

Carl said...

Love this one. I'll think of it every time I see my photo of a Penny Farthing resting against a red wall in Bermuda.


Dulcina said...

I always liked these treasures, but I never even tried to ride a simple modern bike, I'm a coward!
My problem?: balance, yes. I need at least three wheels and... a parachute, a helmet and soft ground.
An elephant would be much easier for me.
Never tried boarding moving buses either, hehehe.
I have enjoyed your riding lesson and experience very much, Dave.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Another lovely piece of writing :)

Rachna Chhabria said...

Another lovely piece of writing :)

haricot said...

The image helped to read your lines, and the bycicles seem to need more sense of balance than wodern ones. Instead you could feel flying. It's amazing.

Dave King said...

Thanks John. You more or less reprise my learning curve, though it was my dad keeping me safe - initially!

The Elephant's Child
There was a prescribed procedure involving throwing throwing the left foot back to find the peg - keeping the eyes front, of course. I didn't persevere long enough to develop it!

J Cosmo
Nope, just more gullible - and with less imagination!

Dave King said...

Shame I didn't know you back then! Interesting response. Thanks.

As, indeed, you were entitled to be! Thanks for.

Yup, everything covered except two minor details - balance and getting off!

Well, I thought myself immortal back then!

I can confirm your thinking!

A Cuban in London
Great comment, enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

Landing on your butt's ok. It's going over the handlebars you want to avoid!

I think my folks thought it was madness rather than bravery! Thanks for this.

No, I didn't hit it too hard. I always had one in sight!

Of course we are! I was at Herne Hill in'48 to see Reg Harris, Alan Bannister et al get their medals. Alas, couldn't make it this time around.

Thanks for this.

Yes, for me back then it was the original leap of faith. That nothing untoward happened to me proved to me that God was in his heaven and all was right with the world!!!

You're right. That is exactly what they are: counter intuitive - like tricycles, in fact.

Yes, it's a fun thing to do - when the machine obeys!

Have I seen that one? Sounds delicious!

Sometime you must tell me what you do for danger! Great response. Thanks.

Thank you very much.

I didn't feel flying. I was supposed to! Thanks for your comment.

Carl said...

I think so, but will pop it up on the blog tonight for you to check out.