To the distinguished company of lums, good evening,
Leaving the office the other night and navigating my way around and through the thousand or so bikes that are tied up and shackled together on the pavements I spotted a Raleigh Arena. A bit tired and shabby but it must have been about 25 years old so no shame in that. Still, it was a real blast from my 80s past.
These were popular wheels in my early teens, before the advent of mountain bikes and the BMX, the racing bike was the way to go and a bit of a marker on the road to adulthood, like your first fluffy moustache or choosing your own clothes to buy in Chelsea Boy.
When I finally matured onto a racer, it wasn't a Raleigh Arena that I plumped for, not surprising I'm sure to those familiar with my contrary streak, but something called a Carlton Commander. With a name like that it sounds like you would most likely find it leaning up against the railings of the Admiralty, it did have full size mud guards, which didn't really do much for my street cred but for those that really knew about racing bikes, well, this was like , er, an Opel Monza in a street of Mantas.
It must have been 20 years since I had seen an Arena and it got me thinking of the other bikes that were popular around my early teens. My first decent bike was something called a Laser. It wasn't from Raleigh, but from some Chinese mob I think, I know one thing , they couldn't weld, and if it had been a private jet I would have been killed in a disastrous structural failure.
My pal had a Chopper, in that orangey colour, with the dangerous castrating gear lever just ready to do away with your freshly dropped marbles the first time your chain came off. The little brother to the Chopper was the Tomahawk, there was a couple of these about the scheme too, I quite liked these, they were stable for a start with sensible wheels.
Lessons having been learned from my Laser, my next ride was Raleigh engineering at its best, the Grifter. And what engineering, twist grip gear changes, big knobbly tyres, stubby little mud guards that allowed dirty water to spray right up your back and a big solid frame that meant it weighed about a quarter ton. Foam seats that you picked away over the years and a big foam rubber safety bar on your handlebars, for no apparent use whatsoever, though it might have been for the safety of any pedestrians you ran over.
The Grifter was the highpoint of useless bikes for teens development, after that they became better and more like what we have now. Raleigh brought out something called a Burner, that was an early BMX type thing, in garish blue with yellow foam padding on the bits you might bang your head, knees or nuts on and it had totally rad man, sorry, 5 spoke plastic wheels.
I remember one of the boys in the street getting a Raleigh Bomber, which on reflection may have been a bit of a pre-cursor to the mountain bike, it certainly wasn't a racer, it was bigger and more substantial, not sure about the name though. It had pictures of Lancaster Bombers caught in searchlights on the frame, I'm not sure how that would have gone down with the German export market, maybe it was called the Raleigh Blitzkrieg over there.
I'm a sucker for new sweets, I have to try them when I see them. I do wonder why they take so long to come up with them though, especially when its a brand extension like these new Milky Bars with biscuit and raisins. Milky Bars have been around for like ever, without much change, they made a chunky one, and buttons but never adding anything else in, its like its grown up, I'm not sure if I like that, it is tasty though. When are we getting Spangles back and Texan bars and can anyone remember a Nutty? Actually, health and safety regulations probably done for Spangles, given that if you bit one it took on all the characteristics of a thick and weighty broken medicine bottle and tore your tongue to shreds. Its nice to see FABS still in the ice lolly compartments but where are the Zooms?
Sitting in a little traffic jam in Kilsyth at the weekend, I noticed in the window of the house opposite a big bird cage with a budgie in it. Now, I'm not at all sure about caging birds of any kind, but to then sit it in front of the window,watching all the other birds flit about in the wide open world just seems like a little extra torment on top for the poor thing. Its like building a prison, with excellent uninterrupted views of Copacabana beach for the inmates.
One more thing tonight, on the news a few days ago there was a report from Afghanistan, about the efforts to improve the infrastructure in Kabul, building roads and laying pipes and other things that will ultimately turn out to be a waste of time and effort, and I noticed the Afghan workmen all wearing Hi-Viz vests, and I thought, even in Kabul, with all those other things that may have an influence on when you turn your toes up, Health and Safety still have you in Hi-Viz vests, how dangerous a place does it need to be before they say, forget it mate, it doesn't matter.
Sorry, one more, one more thing. I'm no Blair fan, but I think Tony Blair giving his book advance and royalties to charity is the absolutely right thing to do, and in fact no public servant of that statute should profit in that way really, but its mean, I think, to accuse him of doing it unwillingly, or as a sign of guilt or conscience at the deaths and injuries from the war. I expect he does have a heavy conscience in many ways, but he couldn't win in this instance, he really was damned if he did and damned if he didn't so we should take it for what it is, a charitable donation to a very worthy cause and remember that Blair is damned anyway.
Lang may yer lum reek.