Sunday, May 15, 2011

Joe's Bike

Many years ago in the wilds of a northern country lived a young boy whose one dream was to own a bike. Every day he listened to the tramping of clogs on their way to the mines and determined that when his time came to enter the wide world of earning a living he would at least own a bike.

His favourite subject at school was not the English language. He much preferred the dialect he had grown up with … and understood. Songs were written and sung in that dialect. Music hall jokes were made in that dialect. For him it was normal. He had many interests: leg pulling, setting his classmates up for a joke, and eventually he became proficient at fixing and repairing all types of things; the smoothing iron, mending the big pot hanging over the open fire with a rivet, mending punctures on his Dad’s pushbike, hammering protectors into winter boots to give them a longer life, and a myriad of other tasks of which young folks of today have no comprehension. He left school and started working.

Long hours of hard labour determined the young lad that he would improve himself, and make a mark on the world.

One day as he was trudging home from a cold, wearisome day he spied a bicycle shop, and out the front, all-shining with its classy paintwork stood his prize. A bike! He raced home and found the tin, which he kept hidden on the top of the wardrobe, and tipped it onto the counterpane. With a long sigh he carefully counted the pennies, but knew deep down inside that there were not enough coppers to buy a bike. That bike was going to be his to own - of that he had no doubt. Joe sat on the edge of the bed and thought. A few extra shillings a week would come in extremely handy.

Looking out the window he noticed old Mr Black down at his allotment. Mr Black was toiling in the evening sun in the rows of beans and carrots that grew prolifically in the well-fertilized garden. Away in the far corner, near the blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes Joe could see the compost heap onto which Mr Black tossed all his kitchen leftovers, along with any stray weed that dared show its face amongst his prize vegetables. As Joe sat he became aware that Mr Black was getting on in years – he hadn’t noticed that before. An idea popped into Joe’s able mind. Would Mr Black let him take over some of the hard work, and in the process he might earn the odd bob or two.

“No time like the present,” he thought as he headed out the back door and through the gap in the fence. “Good even’n’ Sir,” Joe called. “Lovely even’n’ isn’t it?”

“Hello there young Joe,” Mr Black smiled a greeting. “What’s a young lad like you doing out here when you could be down on the green chatting up the lassies.”

“I was wondering if you would like a hand with the allotment.” Mr Black considered this for a moment. Not every day did someone offer to help him out and it needed time to sink in.

“That’s mighty kind of you Joe,” replied Mr Black. You can begin by digging over that rough patch beyond those couple of cabbages. I need another area cleared for some winter caulis.”

Joe wondered whether he should mention the little matter of payment, but decided against it … no sense in pushing it too hard and coming straight out and asking for money as that was not the done thing in his home. Joe whistled while he worked. He rather liked being out in the dusk, with no worries at all. “Strange,” he thought, “but I like this gardening lark.” Payment was no longer that important, though he still coveted the idea of owning that bike.

When the patch was dug over, the biggest weeds tossed on the compost heap, and the soil looking ready for transplanting the cauliflower plants which had been raised in the potting shed near the pear tree, Mr Black leaned on his spade and turned to Joe. “Joe lad,” he said, “you have been a great help to me.” You must take some carrots and a cabbage home to your Ma. “

Joe hadn’t thought of this eventuality but gratefully accepted the offer. This would be a welcome addition to the menu at home. The carrots would brighten tomorrow’s meal of tripe and onions, though he rather hoped his mother would not cook the cabbage as well. Onions and cabbage, as he knew, were a bad combination.

Helping Mr Black became an almost nightly occurrence and Joe gave up all thought of asking for payment. The pleasure of just gardening and helping the elderly gentleman, plus learning the tips and knowledge was more than recompense.

The weeks slid by.

One evening a couple of months later Joe headed down the back yard, through the gap in the fence and towards the allotments. Pushing open the gate he thought it strange that Mr Black wasn’t there. They had made prior arrangements and tonight was to be the night Mr Black had set aside to show Joe the intricacies of potting up. Joe felt uneasy. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and he knew that something was seriously wrong. Near the blackcurrant bushes and just beyond the prize cauliflower Joe could see Mr Black’s legs sprawled on the ground. Joe raced over. Mr Black lay there very still, so very quiet. Joe knew instantly that Mr Black had died in his favourite place, doing what he loved best. Joe walked sadly home to tell his parents who in turn informed Mr Black’s family.

Six months later a letter came in the mail for Joe. It was official looking with a seal on the back. Joe wondered what it was about and upon opening it he was astounded to see a solicitors’ cheque for ten pounds. A fortune! Joe did not consider he deserved such a sum for had he not learned so much from Mr Black. His love of gardening would stay with him forever and he would always have Mr Black to thank for that.

The next morning Joe woke with an idea in his head. Leaving the house a little earlier than needed, he made a detour past the bicycle shop. There, just inside the door, stood the bicycle he had coveted all those many months ago, the bicycle which he had almost forgotten about whilst gardening with Mr Black. That bike was going to be his. He had more than enough to buy it, and tonight, on his way home from work he would stop off and make his purchase.

Joe bought that bike and his lifelong love of cycles and motors began. His prized purchase of latter years was a motorbike. He had obtained his wish, and in the process had gained the hobby of gardening, a love he sustained for a lifetime.

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