Friday, October 17, 2008

(# 2) Onya Bike! (Part 2)

The Track
Lateral Hazard
Owzat? Ya mug!!!
This is only a continuation of Tiger Territory, Pre Teen Years , which happens to be way down the bottom, or more accurately, at the start of this now completely out of hand saga.
This, along with all other essays, recalls with dubious accuracy the times and events of the 1940’s, 50’s and 60,s. A great time to live? Probably not, but back then it was the now and many of us took full advantage of it and enjoyed every second.

At the northern end of Nelson St. and across the road there was a circular beaten dirt track where horse owners would exercise their nags. The local push bike riding fraternity put this track to good use. Mounds of dirt and rubbish would be piled high to resemble a crude but effective obstacle course, not too unlike a modern day BMX track. Bikes could be seen flying through the air almost in orbit with the occasional bingle leaving the odd rider motionless in a pile of dirt and horse manure that was in abundance.

I happened to be one of the premium riders and won more than my share of races, why oh why did some one with my ability and experience use the front brake at the top of the steepest mound? Twelve started the race and none finished. I went to an early lead and maintained it for at least three laps. Up the highest and steepest mound I sailed, but for some inexplicable reason I touched the front brake. The bike suddenly stopped dead and did a complete 180 degree flip and for several seconds I became Rocket man, hurtling through the atmosphere to land ungracefully with a dull Squelch in a steaming great pile of horse shit. Shortly afterwards I was joined by my bike, followed by 11 other competitors and their equipment and when the dust and dried out manure settled what remained resembled the New York Trade Centre after 911. Apart from the odd graze and missing pieces of flesh, there were no serious injuries, although it took me three to four weeks to bash my front forks back into almost their proper position.
When I arrived home later on, Uncle Jack asked me if I had been rolling around in horse shit. I answered, “I certainly have, you should have been there to see it?” He gave me a puzzled look but said nothing.

I am sure it was on a Saturday, Owen, Jim and I decided to go on a long bike riding trip. We rode non stop for what seemed like an eternity and eventually ended up at Riverstone. We had lunch at Jim’s Auntie’s house and then proceeded to ride the long distance home. When I look at the street directory today, I am still amazed at the distance we covered during that odyssey, my God we must have been fit. I kept this trip a secret from the family as I was convinced my Mum would have freaked out.

God only knows how many years I had my Capitol bike, but it was put to extremely good use, up until it finally fell apart through lack of sound maintenance. I lost count of the many times I used to set off from Annandale and weave my way through Camperdown, Newtown, Enmore and would arrive at St Peters. Next, it would be along Canal Road and on to Ricketty Street, to eventually reach Botany Road in Rosebery. From there it was merely another one and a half klicks to my eventual destination in Want Street Mascot. The memories always came flooding back whenever I visited the Mascot house, as many wonderful weekends were spent there with my Dad and my three cheeky female cousins. Occasionaly the girls would be there, but more often than not they would be out and about with their friends, which may have included the odd boyfriend. I would always stay for lunch and then spend the afternoon listening to the 'old pot and pan', telling stories from his colourful past and whenever they were present, chewing the fat with the girls and their Mum, the inimitable Aunty Doss (Dorothy). Every now and then my father and I would travel by bus to Rockdale and ride on the Trolley buses that were servicing the Kogarah and Rockdale regions.
I was always fascinated with these buses as they  were quiet and the ride was extremely smooth. Eventually we would end up returning to Want Street and my visit would end with either a cold drink or a cup of tea. Around 5pm I would say my goodbyes and off I would go on the long peddle home to Nelson Street Annandale. Back then I never regarded the journey as anything out of the ordinary, whereas today I have big problems riding a bike 300 metres down our flat street and back home again.

Today's long distance ride.

Even though none of us were as young as we once were, we still got a kick out of acting like absolute dickheads and at times risking our necks attempting to survive riding home made billycarts down the dangerously steep Chester Street directly opposite our house.
Many times what appeared to be an almost lifeless body would be rushed off to hospital by ambulance after coming to grief at the hill's bottom. Years later when I read Clive James 'Unreliable Memoirs,' I became aware how closely my mischievious childhood in Annandale resembled his in Kogarah. His relating of the Sunbeam Avenue billy cart racing inspired me to put many of my experiences down in writing, including taking on the Chester Street hill.

Chester Street was around 150 metres long with a tight left hand turn at the bottom. Usually a sentry would be at the  start of this deadly turn making sure no cars were approaching.
The billycart daredevils would wait for an all clear signal from this sentry before attempting to break the land speed record. The roar of the ball bearing wheels was deafening as the braindead riders sped downhill minus any form of protective clothing. More often than not, many would fail to negotiate the left hander and what followed was nearly always complete and utter carnage. Bodies and bits of billycart would be seen flying through the air and a common site was the ambulance arriving to transport some unfortunate off to RPA hospital.
The most frightening experience was speeding down the hill after being given the all clear by the sentry, reaching halfway at almost the speed of sound, then being signalled by this sentry and told, "Hang on car coming." FAARK!!!!
Chester Street hill

Typical construction
Most popular wheel

On some summer weekends we would head for the Flats to boot the football around, but were disappointed to find the cricket pitch in use. Some of the fairly well to do bods were members of the local cricket team and played in a well organized competition. They were all resplendent in their creams and every team member appeared to own at least three bats and had their own pads and protectors. I can’t recall where it originated, but a challenge was issued and a fair dinkum cricket match was to be held at the Flats one Saturday….The Cricket Club versus the Ferals. My memory, unfortunately is too vague to recall any details of this match, but it was a complete and well attended success.
Us ferals were given pads and protectors to wear and what a sight we were, not one of us dressed the same, whilst the opposition looked sartorially elegant in their spotless creams. All I can state truthfully is the greasy unwashed Ferals belted the crap out of the so called specialists. We defeated them by almost a complete innings. The parents sat there looking like stunned mullets, unable to comprehend what had just transpired. I seem to recall some of them were not too gracious in defeat, but a return match was never arranged as the writing was now on the wall and further humiliation was not going to be tolerated.  

It was around this time when I would take some of the much younger kids down to the Flats for a kick of the oval football. I was regarded as king of the kids for a while. as their parents seemed to have faith in me as a minder. On one occasion there was a group of young teenagers fooling about on the parkland and my young proteges' had their football stolen by these hoons. There wasn't a lot anyone could do, as these wankers were a bit on the large side, but nevertheless I foolishly attempted to intervene. I snatched the football from one of these bullies and when he confronted me I thumped him in the mouth. He objected and proceeded to belt the living crap out of me. I was lucky a passerby drove off these ferals and walked with us on the long journey home. Both my eyes were closed through swelling and when my mother laid eyes on me and was told what occurred, she dragged me down to the bully's house and confronted his parents. They were genuinely alarmed and the boofhead was severely chastised by both his mum and dad for picking on one as young as me.

A few years later at school we were having a Christian Brothers boxing tournament and I happened to be the only Lewisham kid who went through the qualifying events undefeated. I was evidently a good boxer who had talent I was not aware of.

 On the night of the inter school matches, some misguided soul thought I was too good for the opponents in my age division and put me up against someone much larger, guess who? It was Boofhead the bully. Many of my classmates waiting their turn to enter the ring began saying decades of the rosary for me and many were shaking my hand and informing me it had been a pleasure knowing me.
The big fight lasted one round. I danced around the ring like Fred Astaire, poking him with left jabs and when he became frustrated he swung a haymaker that missed by a mile and I hit him flush on the jaw with a swinging left hook. He hit the deck and was given an eight count before rising shakily to his feet. I sensed blood and rushed in to finish the job. He only was able to throw one more punch because of my onslaught. Trouble was his only punch slammed into the side of my head and the next thing I remember is travelling home on the bus with my distressed Mum. The next day my left ear was twice the size of the right one. I am certain this was the end of my boxing career.
 This tale does have a happy ending as many years later, after I had joined the Avalon Surf Club and was aged about 19, I was walking down Trafalger St when who did I see coming in the opposite direction, none other than my persecutor. I asked him whether he remembered me and he answered that he did and told me in his words, to "Fuck off". I grabbed him by the shirtfront and slammed him up against the brick wall, his head making a nasty dull thud. I hit him with a left rip, followed by a right rip  to the solar plexus and connected with my deadly swinging left hook that landed flush on the side of his jaw. It was a repeat of what happened in the ring all those years earlier, only this time he never got up, he was out cold. I left him on the footpath's nature strip and continued on my way towards Parramatta Road. I never saw him again and I am certain he would have appreciated that.

The character Gavroche from Les Miserables sang, 
"So never kick a dog, because he's just a pup,
You better run for cover , when the pup grows up."

In this case how very appropriate.

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