I'm a child of the fifties. If you are too, you don't need much more explanation. If you're not, then it would take too long to explain all the ins and outs of a simpler age. Few owned a t/v (which was black and white with only one channel) or a car. The main thing for me was the immediacy of the Second World War; it finished before I was born, but it was still a reality that affected our lives. In some ways, it was still continuing as the Cold War. I grew up – like a whole generation – with the expectation that the world as I knew it could end with maybe four minutes notice in a nuclear holocaust. Later, I added chemical or biological weapons to that, though the effect as far as I was concerned was much the same.
These days, after the banking crisis, we're hearing about 'austerity'. Well, maybe; but the fifties were pretty austere. Not that a child noticed. But this isn't a reminiscence about those days, merely setting a scene. I learned to 'make do and mend'. To this day I am happy I learned to work wood and metal, wire electrics and plumb; that I can take a defective appliance and, often, make it work. As soon as I was old enough, though, I wanted a motorbike. I couldn't afford one of the flashy, fast, high revving Japanese machines and owned a succession of elderly British ones – BSA, Triumph, Norton, AJS, Matchless ... I had a Francis Barnett once, but never again.
So, through my teens and twenties into my thirties, I rode and owned British motorbikes, sometimes several at a time. Because they were old, and parts were hard to obtain, I stockpiled – spare gearboxes, magnetos, camshafts – and kept the bikes in tip-top shape.
Then I got married. At first the missus joined in with the biking and seemed to enjoy it; we travelled around, camping mostly, going to various bike events, until we decided to buy a house.
In keeping with my history, we didn't buy a new, ready to live in place, but rather a rambling stone Victorian edifice, on the outskirts of the city, the house being almost derelict and hence cheap. My skills, acquired over the years, made learning the necessary abilities relatively easy and over three years or so we knocked the place into shape, with new floors, new wiring and plumbing and solid-fuel stoves for heating.
While in no way a 'survivalist', my background meant I liked to be able to be independent of public utilities, so we had a septic tank for sewage and could draw water from a spring on our property. A small diesel generator set meant that if the electric went off (which it did from time to time) we at least had power for refrigeration, lighting and those various controls you don't think about.
Our large garden was gradually developed into a kitchen garden so we were largely independent of commercial greengrocery, at least for staples; some things we were able to obtain from nearby farms.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, the bikes had to go. I couldn't spare the hours every weekend necessary to maintain them and as work progressed, I needed the space. It wasn't hard to sell either the bikes or the spares, though I hated to do it, and the money helped.
Once the house was ... not finished, a job like that is never finished ... sound and fully functioning, I considered trying to get another bike. Of course, what happened was family. Bikes and kids just don't go together. The classic British machines that I had because they were cheap, because they were considered out-dated rubbish, were now collectors' items and the prices were increasing exponentially. I briefly had a two-fifty Kawasaki to get to work but it proved to be unreliable, or, rather, that it needed skilled, trained attention at regular intervals, that I wasn't equipped to provide. Lottie needed a car, anyway.
I don't regret the kids – I love them and consider my life justified by their existence – but there's no denying they changed our priorities. Lottie had a Meriva mainly for transporting the kids – I bought a mountain bike and pedalled to work each day. Once Pauline and Sam were in school full time, Lottie managed to land a part-time lectureship at the University, teaching sociology. All in all, it worked out quite well. Until, that is, the Autumn that Pauline, the younger child, started at secondary school.
Lottie didn't come home one day. I worried, of course – called the Police and reported her missing – but no action could be taken, they said. I got the explanation the next day, at work, in the form of a petition for divorce. All communications were to be via her solicitor and she was not interested in any discussion or mediation. The University informed me she was no longer a member of staff, and refused to give any further details.
I was stunned. But you can imagine the kids' reaction. Actually, you probably can't. Sam listened and was very quiet and subdued. Pauline climbed into my lap and wept.
"Why, Daddy? Doesn't she love us?"
I had no answer. "I don't know, darling. I just don't know. I had no hint of this."
Her parents could tell me no more. Much later, when they did know the story, they sadly told me they were not permitted to tell me anything. Once I'd replaced the car, (my credit was good, though Lottie had nearly cleaned out our bank accounts) I continued to visit them with their grand-kids, but I never saw Lottie again and she never attempted to see her children.
Possibly the worst moment was when Pauline got her first period and woke me in the early morning with her screams. I comforted her as best I could and sent Sam back to bed. There were feminine hygiene items in the house, left by Lottie ... who had never had that talk with her daughter. So I kept Pauline off school that day and my mother came over to have a word with her.
Thus our lives reached a new equilibrium. The kids were quiet, worked hard at school and never gave me a moments' worry. I say that ... I was a little worried at Pauline's social isolation if relieved in some ways that she didn't start dating. She took on the 'lady of the house' role and ensured we always had good food in the house and clean linen. I interrupted an argument once between her and Sam over the proper disposition of dirty clothes and the putting away of clean ones. Sam and I took a long walk and when we returned he apologised to Pauline and they hugged.
At eighteen, Sam departed for Dartmouth to become a Naval Officer and a year later Pauline started University, studying computer science. When she graduated, she set up on her own – she took over the large attic bedroom and set it up as combination bedroom, study and living-room. She kept at the sharp end of communications technology and did very well; it wasn't long before I no longer had to subsidise the upgrades to our phone-line, and we were one of the first in the area to have a cable connection.
It was good having Pauline around, though I still worried a little about her social life, or lack of it, until the day she brought home Geoffrey Smart. He looked at first like your typical nerd, but I soon found he matched his surname; he was very bright indeed with a dry wit that I enjoyed tremendously. I refused to worry that they lived together in that attic room and was delighted when the time came to 'give her away' in marriage.
I was less delighted, though I hope I managed to conceal it, when they decided to buy a shop with a flat over, where they would live on top of the job, so to speak. It would be a little lonely in my now over-large house. But I still had my job and was quite used to entertaining myself with books or the occasional film.
I say I had my job ... I did until the economic downturn bit and I was made redundant. It was a blow, but I soon found I was little, if any, worse off. The firm wanted to 'buy in' my services from time to time. I have never understood how making someone redundant and paying out substantially to do it, then paying higher rates to the same person as an independent consultant, makes economic sense ... but then, I'm not an economist.
The house was paid for ... and, thanks to my background, cost little to run. I used some of my free time to maintain a kitchen garden and bought a few chickens, though I knew I would be far too squeamish to actually kill one for the table. Even with this, I had time to spare and it was thus I found myself in a part of the city I had not frequented for many years.
Johnson and Peters, Engineers, looked much as it had thirty years previously – somewhat grubby and run down. I entered and wandered among the machines standing there for sale. None of them were new. A few were modern, only a few years old, but most were the classics I had been familiar with. My eyes were drawn to a Vincent-HRD Rapide. The tag read, 'For sale by auction, Thursday 15th May' and the name of a well known, high class auction room. Next to it, a Velocette Thruxton. 'Price on application'. My heart sank. I would have loved one of the machines there, but I knew that the purchase price was just the beginning ... that there would be maintenance, not a problem, but also obtaining spares. Perhaps I'd do better with a more modern machine?
They weren't cheap, either, and the sophisticated frames and suspension were odd to my eyes. Quite apart from that, I knew that the highest casualty rates among bikers were not, as you might think, from the impetuous young, but men like myself – returning to two wheels after twenty, thirty or more years. The power and capability of the bigger modern machines were in a different class to those even of the seventies; they were just too much machine, for me at least.
"Can I help you, sir?" The enquirer was a few years younger than myself.
.... There is more of this story ...